Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Handyman and Knowledge of Limitations

One of the things that make a handyman good or bad is whether they have a knowledge of limitations. Not everyone can do everything yet some try. I think there are a few reasons why this happens. Sometimes it is pride, “I can do anything.” Sometimes a person isn’t smart enough to know they aren’t smart enough and sometimes a person needs the work so, “fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”

I have been a professional handyman since 1984. During that time, I have had many opportunities to turn down jobs. Sometimes I know that I can’t do a certain repair and another tradesman needs to be called. Appliance repair is an example of something I usually don’t do.

Another reason I turn down a job is if the outcome isn’t certain. An example would be a plumbing repair where disturbing the pipes may lead to a leak that would require a plumber to fix. Some handymen would push forward and if disaster occurs they leave the homeowner without water while trying to find a plumber who can make an emergency visit. On a job like that, I would tell the homeowner of my concerns and recommend that they hire a plumber so that the job can be completed with minimal disruption to their home.

Recently I began working for a customer who had a previous “handyman” replace some switches and outlets in her home. He did okay on some of them but then one light switch was in a box with a junction of wires. For reasons imponderable to mere mortals he ended up pulling all the wires apart and then couldn’t get them back together properly. The result was that the homeowner had a series of lights and outlets that no longer worked. The man left saying he was going to come back but that was the last she heard of him. She hired me for a list of jobs and asked about the “light switch problem.” Over the phone I told her that it may or may not be something I could repair. When I arrived at her home, it became clear that the best solution was to call an electrician as some serious diagnostic work needed to be done by someone who could recognize how all of the wires should be connected. This is a sad example of someone being in over his head even though the job started out simple.

I have customers who have commended me because I’m not afraid to say I don’t or can’t do particular job. They know that my first concern is for their interests and not my own. They rest in the comfort of knowing that the work I do will be done right and at a fair price.

There is an old saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none.” I would add, “incompetent at some.” The lesson is to know what you can and can’t do.

I once had a regular customer who told me of her husband’s experience replacing a light bulb. As a lawyer, he was highly skilled and successful in what he did. On this occasion, he met a light fixture with a problem socket. After much trouble he finally said, “Why don’t you just call Philip.” I commend him for realizing his limitation. That’s the mark of a smart man.

Maybe next time I will tell you about the dog in the backyard. I promise it will be a story unlike any you have heard.


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