During the winter of 2019, I took on a large home renovation project with a lot of hope and very little experience. Okay, I had no experience in home renovation. Basic terms like “pex” and “well pump” were foreign to me. But the dream of owning my own cottage near my favorite childhood vacation spot was enough to push me toward and complete the purchase.
As I write this, I am not yet finished with the project two months later. In fact, only the significant professional work has just begun. However, in two short months, I have learned many life lessons about people, places, and myself. I have learned enough to do it better next time, and I have learned enough to know I still know very little about home improvement.
My sister always told me I was “book smart” but not “street smart.” I think she meant that I was good in school and was able to achieve good grades, but she identified that my brain did not work mechanically, nor was I handy. This home renovation project nicely illustrated this important distinction. While analytical, I am not mechanical. In many ways, this distinction limited my ability to organize, request, and assess work that third-party professionals would complete on my cottage. In many ways, despite my legal background, I found myself unable to articulate basic mechanical expressions and descriptions because I had never seen them in action before. Thus, they were difficult to visualize.
On one occasion, one of those third-party professionals misunderstood my designs and calculations. His misunderstanding and our lack of communication (in writing and verbally) led to his redoing his work (and charging me for it). I did not understand this complication or redo anymore than I understand the original work I had hired him to complete to begin with. The nature of the work, I felt, disadvantaged me to a point where I felt incapable and unable to advocate for myself.
A loved one who noticed my struggling asked me, “Why don’t you treat him like one of your clients? Why don’t you stand up for yourself, and tell him you will pay him only once the job is done and done correctly?”
I considered the questions long and hard. My loved one was right. Why was I feeling doubtful of myself in this moment? I still had the same legal education and training in contracts and negotiation as I had had before the home renovation project. Why wasn’t I using it by clarifying exactly what I wanted done to the house? He reminded me that
I sat down and outlined all of the work I wanted done; I made a list of all tasks. I delivered it to the third-party professional. I informed him that I wanted to avoid any misunderstanding por completo (Spanish for “entirely” in this context). I explained the list to him, and I clarified my expectations. I hired an inspector to review the work. I researched, wrote, analyzed, and communicated just the way I would have had I been managing a case in the legal context.
Too often we forget that our professional skills transcend the professional or academic circles or contexts in which we have developed or honed these skills, and we turn to the conventional habits of the past – even when those habits no longer serve us (or we forget that they no longer serve us). That’s just what happened to me. I resorted to the mentality that I could manage a problem with time, money, and effort, but there was a better way: use my advocacy skills just as if I were representing a client or a loved one in a legal matter.
When we put to good use our professional skills not only for others but also for ourselves, we contribute to productivity. We reap the benefits of all of those hard and long years of school, internships, and work experience. We fight for ourselves just as we would fight for our family members, friend, colleagues, and clients. We remember our worth, and we demonstrate it.
I considered why advocating for myself would not come as naturally to me as advocating for others has. I considered that it might be my legal training – that advocacy for others is the cornerstone of law practice. But there is something internally rewarding about recognizing the value you provide others by providing it to yourself. This form of self-care is an important one not to forget because it helps remind us of our self-worth. A sense of self-worth, after all, is the best preparation you could have to advocate for someone else’s.
© 2019 Melanie Glover. All rights reserved.
First image above: Shutterstock.