Sometimes I think too much, and that prevents me from getting things done. If I tackle a task right away and do an 80% job, that’s a lot better than putting it off for the day when I might be able to complete that task with 100% satisfaction. I need to focus on choosing the former over the latter. My natural tendency is to be a Thinker, whereas I need to push myself to be a Doer. Thankfully, I married a Doer of the highest order!
Thoughts in my head can be my accomplishments’ worst enemies:
Is my blog post good enough? Have I constructed this email with the perfect balance of brevity and completeness? What is the most optimal chore I should be doing – does the lawn really need mowed, or perhaps it’d be better to wash the windows or organize my desk?
At some point, I need to push the Publish button. Send the email. Mow the damn lawn. The windows – well, we’ll get there eventually. And let’s never again talk about the status of my desk organization, ok?
I’m not sure if Chris believes me when I say I have about 10 articles half-written. I haven’t published a post in a while, and I got to wondering why??? I’ve been doing plenty of writing, but no clicking Publish.
In some ways, I’ve fallen victim to the mindset that I Must Make The Optimal Choice. My lifestyle is, by design, ultra-flexible. I’ve achieved the status that I do what I want, when I want. It’s a glorious place to be, but I sometimes become paralyzed by the Paradox of Choice. So I’ll play a video game I don’t quite enjoy and procrastinate between losses that are definitely my fault (Sorry! My bad! What a save!) by wondering what it is I should be doing.
I also find myself lacking self-worthiness, far more frequently than I’d like. It’s why some of my word documents have 1300 words, but I don’t think I have the expertise or background or entertaining story that I find necessary to post. It’s why I deliberate over the exact wording of a simple FYI email, not wanting to sound too pushy or opinionated, or maybe I should triple check the facts I’m stating, or aggghhhh – just overthinking.
I need to weigh some strategizing against plenty of getting shit done. I strive to strike a balance, a practice I learned best from a Homeowners Association, of all places.
The HOA Tale You Don’t Hear
I have a few nuisance HOA stories, but no real horror stories. That’s because I took control almost immediately after moving into the neighborhood. After selling my HOA-encumbered house, I recently ended a six year stint as the HOA Treasurer for a 70-property subdivision tucked against a national forest.
An introduction to Homeowners Associations, Hillbilly Style
Behold the riveting tale of The Redneck Park Homeowners Association (TRPHOA). Unlike 99% of neighborhoods with the name _______ Park, this association was not a trailer park, but being slightly uphill from one and comprising single family homes on an average of 3 acres, was literally one step up from the doublewide life, and so the original members decided before I was born, presumably as homage to its rustic roots, to maintain trailer park naming conventions when it was time to commission a gaudy sign and to establish an official charter, proudly printed on 80lb paper and mailed to the SCC to formalize the collection of august homesteads. Replacement of said sign cost $442.60 and required the participation of no less than 13 homeowners.
I went to the first HOA meeting doe-eyed and ready for some drama. Oh boy, it showed up! But it was dreadfully boring, nothing like the Jerry Springer show I was half-anticipating and half-dreading to see. For example, members debated the merits of certain types of paving for more than a half hour. That same debate would replay itself almost verbatim at every single HOA meeting that we ever held. One could make a drinking game out of guessing certain characters’ pet peeve of the year. A man whose last name might well have been Dookie (seriously, it wasn’t far off) was most fond of deriding the association’s choice of “sharp gravel” which allegedly punctured his tire back in 1997.
The very first election, the only one in which I did not run for office, could be characterized as The Doers versus The Thinkers.
The Doers versus The Thinkers
Meet The Doers
Ol’ Bessie was a 1984 GMC High Sierra 1500 4×4 with a 351 Windsor, smatterings of Bondo and Rustoleum, an engine cherry picker welded to its frame, and more grit than the 2004 Detroit Pistons. She was a gift, and she carried me down many long windy roads when I needed a steering wheel to cry on. When I moved into the TRPHOA neighborhood, she bumped along my pothole besmirched driveway while the first flakes of a 28” heavy snowfall hit the ground. That last truckload carried the camp chairs and air mattress that would adorn my first home as the only furniture in the house where we camped for the first 10 days in my living room.
On day 2, a man knocked on my door – how the hell did he get up here? – and introduced himself, “Hi, I’m Pat. Welcome to the neighborhood. Do you mind if I plow your driveway? Looks like you might need a hand.” Outside was a group of three more men, each with a 4-wheeler and a plow. At the end of my driveway was a John Deere tractor sporting is own snow-clearing machinery. Hallelujah!
By the time I could dress for the weather and scramble to find some cash, the men had cleared my ¼ mile long driveway and dismounted from their tools/toys, looking to shoot the breeze before they headed to the next house. I tried like hell to stuff $20’s into their hands, but they refused and nearly took offense at my offer. These men were part of the group of The Doers.
Over the next couple months, The Doers cleared down trees, unclogged culverts, towed neighbors out of ditches, and on nice days they rode up and down the country roads on their slightly obnoxious fourwheelers for fun. Some of them owned the stereotypical front yards of True Rednecks, with at least two inoperable vehicles resting on cinderblocks.
And eventually, Meet The Thinkers
I didn’t see much out of The Thinkers during my first few months. In fact, the first time I met a neighborhood Thinker might have been at the first association meeting. The Board of TRPHOA was 80% Thinkers, 20% Doers. This particular docket of officers had been in place for more than four years, a helluva run that was about to end unceremoniously.
- President – Small Construction Business Owner
- Vice President – Sales Executive
- Treasurer – Accountant
- Secretary – Teacher (Accountant’s Wife)
- At Large – Retired Teacher, Retired Police Officer
In its scheduling flyer for the meeting, the Board advertised a potential rate increase, the first in 12 years. Attendance at the meeting and voter participation was tremendous! If only our nation could be represented as well as an HOA meeting to vote on higher fees.
The Thinkers were mostly quiet and unassuming. I’d wave to them while they tended meticulous gardens. Eventually, we’d swap seedlings and trade asparagus for rhubarb, but at the beginning, we just passed each other with a smile and a wave and maybe would engage in good-natured ribbing about the State school versus the state’s University. They were mostly college-educated and nearing retirement or enjoying it in the countryside. They volunteered their time to manage the HOA board because, let’s face it, it’s a pain in the ass, an uncompensated and nearly-thankless job, but they had the time and the background required.
An Election of Doers versus Thinkers
The rabble was roused, motions seconded then wholly disregarded, enraged monologues were endured, and ultimately all but one standing officer lost his or her election. New board:
- President – Small Construction Business Owner
- Vice President – Plumber
- Treasurer – Professional Resting Bitch Face Man (occupation unknown)
- Secretary – Handyman
- At Large – Landscaper, Teacher
A coup d’etat! “Off with their heads!” … Easy there, fella, this is a HOA, not a democratic republic on the precipice of autocratic corporatocracy.
The existing board was all but ousted, save for the Small Construction Business Owner, who continues to hold down the presidency to this very day. A legendary balance of Doer and Thinker, this man both steered the ship and mopped the deck when necessary. He’s also one of the four men who cleared the snow from my driveway back on Day 2.
The outgoing treasurer/secretary combo kept meticulous records and never missed a deadline. Their documents were the saving grace when I gained control the following year. In between our illustrious tenures, Professional Resting Bitch Face Man mangled the records nearly beyond repair. He did not file taxes, failed to renew the SCC registration, allowed the insurance to lapse, and complained about how hard the job was at the next annual meeting.
It turns out that this cadre of Doers made excellent neighbors but terrible board members. Running a homeowners association requires knowledge of Microsoft Windows, not worm gear winches.
Why I decided to run for HOA office
I was severely cash-strapped when I bought my first house. Two months after I bought my house, a neighbor uphill from me redirected the flow of water on his property, and the resulting river washed out the entrance of my driveway during every moderate rain. I needed a culvert to remedy the issue, but I did not have the $2,500 sitting around. Therefore, every time it rained, I became a real life Sisyphus, toting my wheelbarrow down the driveway, gathering up the gravel and mud from the woods, and dumping it back into the canyon that had been my entryway. I did this about 50 times over the course of two years while I saved up for a culvert. I’m rich AF now, but I did truly start below $0, and my lower back still remembers the physical hardships of being broke AF.
One day, while gathering my miniature boulders as punishment the universe meted out to me for some unknown crime (I swear my innocence; I committed no sin of hubris), the teacher who had been an at-large member of the board stopped her old beat up Kia in front of my defunct driveway. Not long into the conversation came her pitch, “So I hear you might be good with computers…”
I thought I’d have to tell this lady that I am a specialist and don’t work on personal computers – my go-to antitechsupport spiel – but instead I accepted her nomination for Treasurer. And I volunteered my wife for Secretary. We won, easily, because all the Doers no longer wanted to have HOA responsibilities. New board:
- President – Small Construction Business Owner
- Vice President – Plumber
- Treasurer – Me
- Secretary – My Wife
- At Large – Retired Teacher, Retired Police Officer [both re-gained their slots]
My reign as HOA Treasurer; I am a generous god
Not only did I control the money, but I also held sway over two board votes. While my social skills in my own age cohort are laughable, I have a certain charm over baby boomers, and I used it to further consolidate my HOA power. Mwuah-hah-haaaah!
Just 1.5 years after buying my first house, I controlled the fate of my neighborhood. And my usurpation of the TRPHOA throne turned out well for all parties, despite being a massive headache for me that I was giddy to alleviate after selling my house.
Right away, I established and communicated a simple policy:
We take care of the roads. Nothing more, nothing less.
I shot down so many complaints about why the HOA should do this and how the HOA needs to do that; the HOA needs to resolve interneighbor drama; the HOA needs to somehow enforce a speed limit; the HOA needs to stop the fourwheelers; the HOA needs to do something about so-and-so’s yards; the HOA blah blah blah – NO WE DON’T. We just need to maintain the roads and not be assholes – it’s that simple.
I was aghast when I reviewed the financial records. We weren’t even treading water. Nearly 30% of my neighbors didn’t pay their dues; I worked that down to a 5% delinquency rate. Managing the money was one thing, but keeping up with maintenance on several miles of country, mountainous roads rife with runoff – well that was another problem, one that would require a lot of helping hands.
Having witnessed the obstinate overcommittment of The Doers and the feckless deliberation of The Thinkers, I was determined to be a hybrid.
I organized and showed up to all the work days. When my neighbors called The HOA (me) to complain about trees being down, I didn’t spend $500 for emergency arborist services but instead grabbed my chainsaw and one of my neighbors to get to work. I budgeted and forecasted to the penny, demonstrating to all members the dire situation facing the neighborhood finances and the actions needed to avoid bankruptcy.
I successfully lobbied and whipped the votes to raise the rate of my homeowners association dues by 17% after the rates had been unchanged for 15 years.
I only passed this dearly-needed increase because I created a coalition of Doers and Thinkers. To address the financial crisis, I established a new budget item and a rotating team of DIY Pothole Repairmen. Instead of paying a paving company to repair all the problems with our roads (or as much as our budget could allow), we went to Home Depot, put on our work gloves, and fixed the vast majority of problems ourselves. Having saved substantial money with this program, in my six-year tenure, I finagled the budget to pave overlays on 30% of the road surfaces. This was no small miracle, but a feat of Excel Ninjaism and calloused palms.
When buyers showed up to my house, they “didn’t even know this was a private road; it’s so nice.” I took pride in those roads and in the finances I managed. It showed when the board begged me to stay on, at a meeting when it was asked “Does anyone in the room want to be treasurer?” and silence answered. After I left, they outsourced the position for a cost of > $5,000 annually.
Be both a Doer and a Thinker, but mostly a Doer
I’m hitting Publish on this article. I sat down and wrote it all in one sitting. I edited it and found pictures, optimized SEO, etc etc… all at once.
I was getting tired of doing things halfway and giving up when it wasn’t the masterpiece I envisioned. I grew weary of waiting for the perfect outline before I started working. I decided to DO something about this predicament and complete the task, all the way to Publish in one sitting.
So here it is, the outcome of my Doing after waaay too much Thinking. I’m a planner at heart, a strategist, and a battle-scarred Excel Warrior. I need to remind myself sometimes that I need to take action.
When I feel worthlessness creeping in, the only remedy is to complete tasks. I start chipping away at my to-do list, each small task snowballing into a day that I can look back on and Think, “I did enough.”
That’s the best kind of Thinking, the flavor of satisfaction for what I have Done.