Sunday, September 19, 2010


I mean my own limitations. I've been trying to get the hard wood floors in my new (to me) house ready for refinishing. I pulled up the carpet, and pulled out as many of the nails and staples as I possibly could, with about 85% success. And the floor in the upstairs hallway, on the stairs and in the living room shone through with great potential (despite all the paint splatters that indicated some joker hadn't used a drop cloth for one of the paint coats). But when I got to the dining room, reality set in. There were two layers of gross old linoleum that had to come up.

Long story short, I'm finally done with getting up the old linoleum, including the glue that held the bottom layer down. The floor in the dining room now shines with that same great potential as the rest of the hard wood floors.

Except for underneath the two built in china cabinets, one on either side of the window. The cabinets were apparently put in some time after the second layer of linoleum, since both layers of linoleum are present underneath said cabinets.

Now, I don't need these cabinets there and I really want to take them out, not only to get at the floor underneath them, but also because taking them out will give me room for my dining room table and my bar in the dining room. There is some analysis behind the need/desire to get them out of the way.

And I'd really like to keep them mostly intact, if possible. They are in good shape, and I could take them to the Habitat Restore for someone else to use.

I tried my hammer. I'm limited on tools right now, not being in receipt of my household goods yet (waiting for the floors to be refinished before taking delivery...should be next weekend for the floors, so maybe two weeks for HHG - YAAY!). So I tried my hammer. I couldn't even get the angle on any of the nails.

I asked Lynn if I could borrow a pry bar, which she graciously supplied, while telling me that she wants to come down and help out on the house, but acknowledging that right now is *really* not a good time with October right around the corner. Totally understand, and think the offer is just so cool.

So this morning, I tried the pry bar. It was far more effective at getting at the support boards inside the cabinet. I took off the molding around the sides and top, so I could see better what I was dealing with. I pried, and I hammered, and I cussed, and I lifted, and I shifted, and I put a couple gouges in the wall trying to get the damn thing loose. There are nails going into the side wall that are huge and don't stick out enough to get an edge under. And they're in the corners, so I'm not sure I could get a good angle on them anyway.

And what I finally realized was that I couldn't.

At least not with my current limitations. If I had a sledge hammer, garrans I could get it out...might not be reusable, but I'd get it out. If I had another person with a little more strength, maybe we could get it out. But me, by myself, with my pry bar, I just can't do it.

What a weird thing to hear myself say.

But this isn't the first this week I've contemplated my own limitations. I'm taking a class called "Moral Dimensions in Public Policy." It's a really interesting class, a little grim at times, talking about just war theory and all the horrible things people do to each other. We're using the book Humanity: A Moral History of the Twentieth Century, by Jonathon Glover (Yale University Press, 1999). The discussion is interesting, if difficult for me to follow. For you see, I am not a thinker. Sure, I can think, but I rely far more on common sense to get me through the day. Logical thinking, though, not so much. I never did well at geometry proofs and logical reasoning baffles me. I can get a step or two down the path, but then I get all baffled, and go off to look at the leaves on the bushes lining the path. This is why some of my posts bring up thought-provoking topics, but only scratch the surface of them. I know they're good topics, but I don't know what to do with them, how to expand on them thoughtfully.

So this class is gonna be hard for me. We have weekly readings for which we have to summarize a particular point and develop an analytic question based off what was said. Gulp. And we have a 20 page paper to write about the moral dilemma of our choice, exploring the basis and reason behind our position. Gulp. Gulp.

Of all my classes, this is the one that has me worried. It's not statistics or the calculus in microeconomics. It's that I have to think about human nature and reason through an argument.

So, I've decided to go to the professor's office hours next week and ask for help. I'm gonna tell him that what he's asking me to do is very difficult for me, and while I will try as hard as I possibly can, I am not expecting stunning results. Maybe I'm setting myself up for failure by not expecting those stunning results, I don't know.

When I was wrenching on one of the china cabinets this morning, I originally thought this post was going to be about asking for help, and how hard that is for me. Any one of the last two crews I've served with knows well enough what I'm talking about. They all, at one time or another saw me carrying something kinda heavy, or struggling with carrying too much, and offered to help. They were mostly all told, "no thanks, I got it," as I fumbled and strained and tried not to trip over my own two feet. It's just my nature.

I know well enough where it comes from. I learned it from my mother. She is one of the most capable people I know, and I learned it from years and years of seeing her struggle to raise two daughters and keep in touch with her son who lived far away. I was brought up with it, and I cannot deny where it came from, even if I wanted to. Which I don't.

I'm used to being able to do most everything for myself. It reminds me of the back-handed compliment a previous boss threw at me once (unfortunately in front of the other Department Heads and the Command Senior Chief). He said, "Not everyone is Wonder Woman like you." We were talking about physical limitations affecting weapons qualifications. I disagreed with his assertion that some of the small women just couldn't shoot because of their size. Granted, I don't like to shoot the shotgun because being 5'2" on a small frame, I have a hard time fitting the butt of the stock into my shoulder where it should be so I don't knock myself out with the recoil, but I have done it, and well enough to qualify on the weapon. It took hard work, determination, patience and a lot of stubbornness, but I wasn't about to let something like not being able to shoot a damn gun keep me from doing what I wanted to do.

Just for the record, I have no delusions of being Wonder Woman, despite what my former supervisor said. Though I did buy a WW costume that year for Halloween :)

I'm hoping it's a sign of maturity that I'm able to better recognize my limitations, physical and mental. And I do have a back-up plan for getting the cabinets out. I'm gonna ask the guys that come in to refinish the floors if they can help me remove them. But for right now, the cabinets are going to stay right where they are, and remind me every time I look at them that I can't do it all by myself.


Azulao said...

Coming from a physical science field myself, I want to assure you that your limitation in your policy class is one of training -- not talent. Also, I do not feel that you are setting yourself up for failure, but *success*, by not expecting stunning results on your paper. Expecting stunning results in writing usually results in, well, no writing at all.

I am in constant awe of the ability of the social scientists, literary analysts, and philosophers that I know to do what you are being asked to do: work through a non-physical argument based on a thesis, upon which physical data might come to bear. Even if you were a wiz-kid in geometry, or chess, this would be different.

Physical science trained me for squat beyond itself. I can pose a physical question, gather physical data, and see if my data answer my question. Working logically through human beings' un-f*cking-believable strangeness...not so much.

Asking your professor is a great idea. Start early, *now* in fact, on your paper. Buy some of those critical thinking books I lent you and you very responsibly returned to me (thank you!), just to remind yourself of the steps. And don't worry about eloquence -- just get the outline of the argument stone-solid. Eloquence gets added last.

Limitations. Snort. I see only one limitation here, and it's not the one you think.

Daren Lewis said...

The wonderful thing is that, given a well nurtured team, you don't need to do it yourself. The academic environment is often individualistic and does challenge you to build strengths where you don't have them. In the field we hope we never stand alone and as leaders should strive to assure we never do, not for our own sake but for the sake of those we serve.

Thank you for sharing both the challenges and successes.

Sassenach said...

1. Call Habitat and tell them they can have the cabinets, but that you need a volunteer to provide tools/assistance in removing them.

2. If the degree were easy, it wouldn't be worth your (or the Coast Guard's) time. I found my grad school experience transformative -- I never looked at the world the same way again and I gained a better understanding of the Coast Guard's role in the greater scheme of things. It's great to pull babies out of the surf, but it's also important to be able to properly exercise the service's national security and economic functions. *This* is why an advanced degree is considered important for further advancement and assignment to positions of greater responsibility.

The important thing is not to let this new knowledge and capability cause you to neglect your deckplate skills. Do that, and you become one of "them" that become too far removed from the realities of Coast Guard operations.

3. Chiming in with Azulao about not expecting "stunning" results. You're used to aiming for and getting the 100%. Hard as it is (and this is the pot talking to the kettle here) give yourself some freedom to explore ideas and occasionally get it wrong (get the lower grade). As Miss Frizzle on the Magic School Bus always says, "Take chances! Make mistakes!"

Just a Girl said...

Darin, I completely agree that teams are necessary in an operational environment, and while I do not buy into the theory that the team is only as strong as its weakest member, the thought of being a weak team member haunts me for two reasons. First, as an individual of the team, there is no one else on that team that can pull the trigger of that shotgun for me, or pull my skinny butt up the 30 foot freeboard on the jacobs ladder, or make the right decision as the CO when the decision really counts in a crisis. Those are all things that I have to do for myself. And rightfully so.
Second, as the team leader, I rely on my personal capabilities to inspire and encourage the sailors I lead. I don't like to follow someone I see as incompetent and capable and I hate the thought of putting anyone that works for me in that position. So I try to be as capable and competent as possible, for their sakes as much as for my own.

Sassenach, excellent suggestion about getting Habitat Restore to come take out the cabinets! That's my kind of thinking!

I know I set high standards for myself, and while I don't think I'm scared about not meeting them (because I actually do only seldomly) I don't like the idea of putting all the hard work into this *thing* that I'm so bad at and failing miserably. Similarly, there's a reason I don't sing karaoke either!

I'll plod along with this's what the CG is paying me to do right now, and I certainly don't want to waste their investment. But I'll try to do it on my terms. Like reading my weekly ethics assignment outside in the Enid A. Haupt Garden by the Smithsonian on a gorgeous fall day. I had a lady walk by and say to me, "Well, if you have to study ethics, at least you're doing it in a beautiful place." Exactly!