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So, our ceiling fan in the living room was having problems.  Several of the arms that connect the blades to the motor were showing signs of age (stress fractures, etc.) and it wasn’t working well.  The blades were not balanced because the fractures affected the angle, and as a result the fan wobbled.

I’m no mechanical genius (I can use a hammer, screwdriver, wrench, saw, drill, and a few other tools without accidentally removing body parts or seriously injuring myself in some other fashion), but I was able to examine the fan and figure all of this out.  With that in mind, I removed the fractured blade arms to take them to a large hardware store in order to see if I could find replacements for the broken parts.  Before going, my wife and I discussed that I might just see about replacing the entire fan if they had a decent quality fan for a reasonable price.

I arrived at the store (my three year old son was my helper for the day) and headed for the ceiling fan department.  We found the arms and found the fans and after looking around, I found a fan on sale that looked like just what we needed.  The best part?  The ceiling fan said right n the box that it was a “five minute install.”  Wow.  Right on the box.  Looking at the little four step pictorial on the box made it seem simple enough, and we got it.

The first step in installing the new fan was removing the old fan.  This was a process that involved partially disassembling it, disconnecting wiring, and then removing the fan and its hardware from the ceiling.  That part of my five minute task took almost an hour. (the previous fan was installed by the same mischievous folks who the previous owners of our home had put wallpaper in the bathroom.  I’m sure of it.  Somewhere, they’re still laughing at us…)  Finally the new fan had been removed (and it was done carefully enough that if absolutely necessary I could have re-installed it).

Surely this meant that the remaining portion of the task was 5 minutes, right?  Well, first you need to inventory the parts that come in the box to make sure you can find and identify the parts that you need.  Then you need to mark and drill pilot holes for the screws that will hold the new mounting hardware for the fan.  (we just passed the five minute mark and we haven’t touched the fan yet).  Next you attach the mounting hardware to the ceiling, you run the wires through the various pieces, you connect all the wires (after first trimming several of them down from six feet to the needed 12 inches or so and stripping the wires to expose the new ends).  Finally you actually assemble the fan’s components, attach the blades, hook up the lights, and you are ready to test it.  Total elapsed time for installation of new fan: 45 minutes.

To be fair, if I had to do it all over again, I could probably get my next fan install (not including old fan removal) down to 15 minutes – 10 if I was “in the zone” – but a five minute project it wasn’t.

It’s amazing how our perceptions of our own abilities and those of others are frequently so inaccurate.  I thought for sure that being proficient with most tools would allow me to meet their five minute standard.  The manufacturer probably thinks that anyone with such basic tool proficiency should be able to do the task in question in five minutes.  Neither one of us was right.  What do you really know about yourself and those around you, and what do you think you know?