When I was in college, I really didn’t spend a lot of time with other engineers. In a lot of ways, this made me something of an outlier in the department; unlike my fellow engineering students, who lived together, studied together, and did all of their hobbies together, I was content with my odd hodge-podge interdisciplinary friend group.
Except for two of my dearest friends, engineers one year ahead of me who lived on my floor and took me under their weird, robotic little engineer-wings in my first year in the program. These two guys miraculously put up with my antics, and when they moved into a house my sophomore year, I was always around for what we fondly called “Project Days.”
This house needed a lot of TLC—the previous tenants left it in a wild state of disrepair, full of junk and covered in grime. Somehow they managed to steal every lightbulb in the entire house (including the oven light, for some reason?) but leave literally cupboards full of plastic bags they must have been collecting for decades.
Over the course of three years, we tackled electrical projects (the entire basement was wired on one circuit, somehow?), cosmetic repairs (I scrubbed more stains off those walls than I even want to think about), basic decluttering (at one point we had to break a screen door in order to remove it from a crawl space, and I maintain the house was built over the door), minor replacements (like all the lightbulbs we were missing), and some true construction (we built a total of three new walls, added a pantry, and moved a staircase).
I loved those Project Days for a variety of reasons: I got to actually do something, instead of a bunch of useless math problems offered to me by my classes; I got to spend some quality time with my good pals; and perhaps best of all, I got to participate in what we lovingly call “The Destruction Phase.”
The Destruction Phase comes in every project, and counterintuitively, it’s not always the first step. Ironically, it’s often an accidental or unplanned step. But it’s always necessary. Sometimes it’s tearing down a wall, stripping wires, or digging postholes—it always looks a little different, but it’s one of the best parts. It’s the phase of a project where you have to have a little faith, some vague vision of the end result, but you’re not exactly sure how things will pan out.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about The Destruction Phase a lot, but in more contexts than house projects. November 1st marked two years of me living across the country from my childhood home, having moved to New York knowing nothing and no one. I’ve thought a lot about the intentional and unintentional destruction these last two years have held for me.
Something I find particularly beautiful about my college-engineer philosophy of The Destruction Phase is that it is not necessarily followed by construction—or reconstruction, if you want to use that kind of language. Sometimes it’s okay, sometimes it’s necessary to tear something down and plan to never see it or use it again. Sometimes things have outgrown their usefulness, or are proven to be harmful, or you just find a better way.
For me, the list of things destroyed is a long one. My workaholic tendencies, my fear of setting boundaries. Finding my value only in what service I can provide for the people around me, coming to terms with broken relationships that will remain broken. Burned bridges in my early career, connections with the church that I can no longer stomach, and codependent friendships that I allowed to drain my life and joy because I didn’t know there was another way. Some things I will miss, some things I’m still grieving, some things still have an “Under Destruction” sign plastered on them.
Sometimes I think about the person I was two years ago, and it feels like looking at photos of that old house before our renovations: it’s familiar, it’s full of people that I love, but it’s different than today.
I might miss the old days, when every weekend we discovered a new quirk (none of the ceilings were parallel with the floors, somehow, so every picture looked like it was hung crooked?) but I know that my new reality is better, colored by the ripple effects of The Destruction Phase.
Lillie grew up on a forty-acre hay farm in Central Oregon, making the trek to Michigan to study mechanical engineering and sustainability. After graduating in 2020, she moved to Rochester, NY, where her day job as an engineer for the local gas utility funds her outdoor adventures, love of books, various craft projects, and investment in her new community.