Beginner’s Mind When You’re Old

Photo by Lukas Denier on Unsplash

Last year was full of mistakes. As a certified self-critic, I could list hundreds of them. But as a learner committed to keeping a growth mindset, I can’t keep my mind open while focusing only on mistakes.

2022 was my first full calendar year in the real estate development business, and I wasn’t expecting to hit a home run with every decision. At least when you’re older, you have enough perspective to realize that going in. At the same time, I wanted to use my age, life experience, and professional skills to make smart decisions.

Did that happen? Yes and no.

There were some humble moments:

  • Spent too much money on a good product that was wrong for the application. (I mean way too much money.)
  • Hired a few contractors that I didn’t check thoroughly enough. Again, that resulted in wasted time and money.

There were some satisfying moments:

  • Transformed a nasty eyesore into a clean, orderly, and safe housing complex.
  • Formed a new partnership to provide stable housing for homeless youth.

I also learned some lessons, which brings me back to beginner’s mind. While I’m not really old (just keep it to yourself if you think otherwise), I’m at the point in life where many start to think about retirement. What the heck am I doing, trying to transition into something new?

I’m just getting started. That’s what I’m doing. I’m learning, and I’m going to keep on learning.

2022 had some valuable lessons:

  • Do your homework when it comes to hiring. Take the time to collect references, paperwork, licenses, insurance, etc., and verify them all before spending a penny.
  • Most problems do not have to be solved in a hurry. Take immediate action when necessary, but otherwise slow down. Haste makes waste, no joke.
  • Ask for advice from people who know more than you do. It can save a lot of heartache.
  • Trust your gut about people. (I’ve known this for a long time, but I keep getting updated lessons in the concept.)
  • Related to above, when people show you who they are, believe them. (Thank you, Maya Angelou. You are still my hero.)
  • If you’re small, female, and middle aged, people may not take you seriously, or may not notice you at all. Use this to your advantage whenever possible. Get to work and accomplish things while no one is watching.

Let’s go, 2023. I’ll keep working on my beginner’s mind and I’ll be open to learning new lessons. But you can bet I’ll use my age and wisdom to avoid learning the same lessons over and over again.

The First Rule of Renovation Club

Personal information obscured. Dates are current and the company is known in the area.

There IS a renovation club! If you have ever paid a contractor or handyperson to complete a job, you’re part of it.

I recently broke the first rule of renovation club. I knew better! This isn’t my first rodeo, and I’m mildly disgusted with myself for not following the rule. But as the saying goes, “I never lose. I either win or I learn.” Suffice it to say, I learned this time.

RULE #1: No matter what the documents say, verify the documents yourself. It doesn’t matter if the dates are current on the insurance documents. Call and check. Do your homework. It doesn’t matter if the contractor card has the state seal and looks official. Call and check (or go online and check). It doesn’t matter if you need to have uncomfortable conversations with the contractor because you can’t find the information to back up what you’ve been told or shown. DO IT. You’ll end up having more difficult conversations in the end if you don’t.

This time, it was a low-stakes job and no real harm was done. The low stakes were part of the reason I relied on the documents and allowed work to begin before verifying the documents myself. Before long, I noticed some dishonesty, some inconsistency, and things that just didn’t add up, and that prompted me to check the veracity of what I had been told and shown. You know what’s coming. The policy had lapsed and the license had expired.

What followed was a difficult conversation. I asked the contractor to leave the job, and there was bit of Jerry Springer-ish drama (not on my part). Sadly, the work was pretty good, and I think he needed the job. But I can’t work with someone who willingly employs deception for gain. I’m building a team, and that’s not the kind of team member I’m looking for.

Let this be a cautionary tale, and remember rule number one. No matter what the documents say, verify the documents yourself.

How you do anything is how you do everything.

Perhaps a cliche of entrepreneurs and performance coaches, but there’s truth to this, in so many ways.

If you’re trying to provide value without breaking the bank, you need to come up with creative solutions. It would be slick to replace all the cabinets, but when the budget doesn’t allow, and the rental market won’t bear it, it’s still possible to make them clean and neat for the next resident.

With 10 bucks, 30 minutes, a sharp blade, and a roll of EasyLiner, these cabinets looked refreshed. New? No. Respectable? Yes.

Have a standard and stick to your standard.

Mine: Would I be comfortable if I rented this apartment?

If the answer is no, the apartment isn’t finished.

How Broadway Got Her Groove Back

You’ve come a long way, Lady. After decades of abuse and neglect, you’re back. We didn’t try to change who you are. You always had understated elegance, and we weren’t trying to erase your identity. But your value had been overlooked for too long by too many people. That’s how life works sometimes. You’re getting another chance, and with the new residents who will call your rooms home, you’re giving another chance.

The pictures tell the story here. Lady Broadway, welcome to your second act.

50 Shades of Beige

This key shouldn’t be necessary.

Simplicity is beautiful. The more responsibilities you have, the more you can appreciate the value of simplicity, because simplicity saves time.

In the spirit of simplicity, I appeal to you. Saturday afternoon I tackled a task that had been on the back burner for a long time. Too long. It was one of those tasks that you consider and say, “Hey, it’s not going anywhere. I’ll get to it.” You know it should be done, but it’s just not as urgent as other tasks. Then something comes up and you wish you had tackled it, because now it’s an even greater annoyance. You know where I’m coming from here. It’s that thing that should be organized, but it’s too time consuming to organize, so you skip it. Then you need to find something in that chaos, and it’s an exercise in continuing frustration.

This particular task involved 28 cans of paint with no identifying labels. The cans were left behind by the prior owner and they waited patiently for attention during the four years I ignored them. Make no mistake…their presence changed my behavior. Four years ago, I became fastidious about labeling paint with the exact date and location of use. I wasn’t going to be part of this problem.

Then last Saturday afternoon, I set out to solve the problem. Armed with my Dollar Tree foam board and disposable brushes, I made this key. As it turned out, eleven of the cans contained dried paint and could be set aside for special disposal. That still left seventeen cans of paint with no useful information except the clear evidence that they had been opened and used.

The next step will be to identify the location in the house where each paint was used. Believe it or not, there are at least three different shades of beige used in three adjoining rooms off the kitchen. They are similar enough to create a perceived match at first glance, and dissimilar enough to exasperate when examined closely.

I leave you with two appeals. First, label your paint. For the love of reason and all that makes sense in the world, if you open a paint can, write some useful information on it for the next poor soul who might follow in your steps. Second, decide on a shade of beige, or gray, or whatever it is. Have the courage to make up your mind. Do if for the sake of simplicity.

What is it?

Do you know what this is? From this day forward, you will notice them everywhere.

As part of the renovation process at our Broadway property, we had to apply for a building permit for exterior repairs. (Side note here for a mini-celebration…it took me 51 years to need to do this, and my first attempt was approved. Yay, me.) I should clarify. The permit was approved with conditions. One of them was to buy and install the box above.

Well, what the heck is it? I’ll give you a hint. It’s not a “keep warm” box for Grub Hub deliveries. (Someone, I just gave you a great idea. Go make one of those.) Hard to tell without measurements or perspective, but it’s too small for that.

Could it be a weatherproof safe for your personal defense items? Nope, this thing has to be mounted on the outside of the house, and that would kind of defeat the purpose. However, we are getting warmer regarding the reason behind this requirement.

Have you guessed it? This humble $519.00 hunk of metal might actually save someone’s life in the event of a fire. The box will contain keys to each unit, and the city fire department has a master key, as they do to all the “Knox Boxes” in the city.

Mark my words. If you didn’t notice them before, be observant the next time you walk down a city street. You’ll see them everywhere.

Save it or raze it

In this season of renewal, I find myself looking with a discerning eye toward what can be renewed and what must be removed to make space for the new.

When we can save it and it’s worth being saved, let’s do it. There’s value in reuse. There’s value in salvaging what can be saved. But there are also times when you have to take the structure to the ground, remembering that the soil provided the foundation, and something new can arise.

One of my dreams for the future is to create a tiny home community centered around a communal garden. I’m trying to educate myself and I’m learning about the tiny home experiences of others.

A couple in Colorado found and purchased a home that had been devastated by fire. The structure was a burnt out shell and no one was interested. But they were interested, because they weren’t looking at the shell. They were looking at what was beneath it. The property had a well, septic system, and electric service in the perfect location to place their tiny home. They ended up adding a deck and an additional structure that made the end result their dream home. You can watch their story here.

They had the courage and creativity to look at something in a new way. As the world around me begins to renew, I’m challenging myself to do the same. Save it, restore it, or raze it. Make space for new beginnings.

What about a mural?

I get it, the rendering is quick and dirty, maybe even crude. Working with photos isn’t my strong point…at least not yet. But the image gets the point across.

If you owned a property that could be a canvas for a mural, would you want one? What would you want the mural to convey?

If you’re an investor, maybe you have a property that showcases a mural. How did that happen?

What are your thoughts? Comments are welcome!

You Don’t Know What You Want

You may think you do, but until you are confronted with options – perhaps just a few or maybe dozens, you don’t really begin to understand what you want.

In this humble case, you don’t believe that you want a yellow tub.  Who would?  Yet, when you browse the apartment listings online, you fall into a sea of photos of white subway tile, one generic wall of white followed by another.  The dozens of galleries are interchangeable, and after hours of clicking through images, you realize it really doesn’t matter which apartment you choose, because they’re essentially all the same.  

That is, until you click on the listing for Lady Broadway.  There she is, with that joyous yellow tub, glowing audaciously in the sunlight.  How dare she?  This is bold, unconventional, and totally in your face.  She isn’t hiding her personality in the dark shadows of a closeted afterthought of a bathroom.  No, she has the nerve to showcase herself in front of a window, basking in her glory.  Take it in.  There’s no looking away.

Almost in spite of yourself, you start thinking about how that yellow tub might lift your spirits each morning.  You feel a sense of familiarity that you can’t quite place, and then it comes to you.  Lady Broadway’s tub is the same shade of yellow you saw in the YouTube video about 2022 design trends and the return of Art Deco.  The shades of gray with the classic yellow, the elegant lines – that’s it! 

Suddenly, you know what you want and what you must have.

You want a yellow tub.

Serendipity on Broadway

People mean well when they say, “When God closes a door, he opens a window,” but I still find the phrase mildly annoying. I mean, who wants to hear about the next open window when you’re looking at a closed door? Yet, it didn’t take me long to consider the window when I was staring at the inside of the securely latched bathroom door, holding the loose antique knob in my hand.

That morning, Carlos and I walked the perimeter of the Broadway property, preparing for another junk haul. We rounded the corner adjacent to the neighbor’s fence, and there it was—a petite school chair from the 1920’s or so, with a solid metal frame and a wooden seat. It hadn’t been there the day before, and it’s sudden arrival was odd, even a little creepy. It was placed on the sidewalk facing the fence, as if the fence were an old chalk board and it was time for a lesson. The creep factor was palpable. Carlos and I looked at the chair, at each other, and back at the chair.

Carlos broke the silence. “How did this get here?”

“Good question.” I didn’t want to think about why it was there, but I went for the logical explanation. “My guess is that someone had a little happy hour time here last night. It’s not visible from the street, so I guess someone hung out here.”

“Hmmm. You think so?” Carlos didn’t look convinced.

“I don’t know, but it’s going on the junk pile.” With that, I picked up the chair and stacked it with two trashed satellite dishes on the side porch, ready to be picked up the next day.

We went off to tackle our rehab tasks for the day. At one point, we took stock of needed supplies, and Carlos explained that the bathroom door needed a new knob because the stem was too short, causing the handle to fall off. I made a physical note in my notebook, but I failed to make a mental note. This will become important later.

Later… Carlos headed home and I was about to lock up, when I realized that instead of stopping at the rest area on I-70 (my new favorite place), I could use the new, sparkling, functional bathroom on site. I crossed the threshold and closed the door behind me. As I closed it, the knob separated from the spindle and I was trapped.

Dramatic, you say? No. A vacant property with no one around, at least no one who means well, and no way to exit. Then I looked past the claw foot tub to the double hung window. Could I fit? Probably. Am I too old for this business? Definitely. Will I break something? Maybe. But it’s a first floor bathroom, so what the heck?

As I stood on the edge of the ancient tub and unlocked the window, I surveyed the situation below and laughed out loud. A few feet below me, that creepy chair rested on the planks of the side porch, pushed against the wall like a step stool waiting to aid my escape. I slipped through the window and lived to tell this tale.

You might call it serendipity, but I prefer to think of it as God’s sense of humor. God didn’t close that door on Broadway. I did, and I knew better. God provided me with an open window, but He knows me and did me one better, with a ladder, a soft landing, a laugh, and a story. I’ll take that over serendipity any day.