This is the second part of the top 10 lessons learned on the way to converting my first van to a campervan, the ones I knew even before buying the van. See Part I here. Online articles were enormously motivating for me during this project, I hope you find something here for you as well. Let’s get right to it.
6. Embrace the Fear
As the performance artist Marina Abramovich said, 'If something frightens me, I know I must run to it.’
There is a part of our brain which is evolutionarily very old. These are several structures right in the centre, at the top of our spinal cord which are there to scream ‘NOOO!’ when we get out of our comfort zone. They put us into a state of fear and initiate a chain of fight or flight reactions. This primitive part of us used to keep us safe from predatory animals, or from doing something to get chucked out of the village and thereby risking death by starvation and exposure to the elements.
Now, that same part of the brain will do it’s Darwinian freak-out dance when you learn you are going to have to make a cut in the metal skin of your van, pay several hundred pounds for solar panels or realise it’s on you to make a pile of materials into a functioning kitchen and sofabed. It will cause you to procrastinate and make you feel overwhelmed. Seth Godin calls it the Lizard Brain, Steven Pressfield calls it The Resistance. (Note: you should check out both of them, after the day’s van work is done.
This is fear of doing something new, something uncomfortable. The best way to soothe it is to recognise it and see it as Marina does, a sign that you are doing something new and worthwhile. Thank the fear for showing you the way and get on with it.
7. Record your progress
Making a note of the day’s progress is easily overlooked - after day job, evening work on the van and clean up, stopping to do anything between myself and crashing into bed did not appeal.
But, it only takes a few seconds to take a few quick photos. In addition to helping you stay motivated, recording gives you a way to share and give back to the online communities helping you. A one sentence daily journal is something I will definitely use next time. I would suggest doing this even if you are putting some or all of your build on social media, it creates a habit of recording even ‘profile unworthy’ action which may have more actual meaning later on.
Often much about getting through this is nothing more than dirty, unrefined, stubborn persistence. During my work on my first van conversion I painted the roof and it peeled off (twice), had a serious back injury (unrelated to the van build) and a bereavement. Working on the van build project most days in small ways kept it alive and made it much easier to get into the build later on. Even with less dramatic circumstances, even when you try to focus on gratitude, there are days where a country walk to a local pub feels much more appealing than aching joints and sweeping sawdust.
In Japanese there is an aphorism 三日坊主 (mikka bouzu) or ‘three day monk’, referring to a monk who gives up on his studies after three days. This means someone who works at something for a short period of time and quits just when the hard work really starts. Don’t be a three day monk! The Japanese aphorism for you, dear fellow campervan builder, is 七転び八起き (nanakorobi yaoki), or ‘fall down seven times, get up eight.’
One of the best bits of advice given to me was 'put down your tools for the day when you've had enough’. If you've put work in on the campervan project that day there comes a point where your body and brain are too worn out to be of much use. Building a campervan is different from many other projects; if you go too far it’s easy to make mistakes which you will only have to fix, wasting time and materials. Worse, things may go wrong with some of the tools - which are just as happy to drill through you as the kitchen worktop-to-be. You’ll soon know when you are getting end of day 'van stares' and aches which signal you've had enough. Avoid having to re-build or getting injured by calling it quits after you've given your best.
10. Practice first
Listed at #10, but actually the biggest lesson learned in the practical part of the van build. A trial run on scrap pieces inevitably helped refine the set up and technique for the real thing every time I did it. Often actions which look fairly straightforward in the directions or a YouTube video require unexpected finesse and customisation of approach when you do them yourself (hinge mortises: I’m looking at you.). Stopping to practice usually saved materials and made things safer and ultimately quicker in most cases.
Thanks again for reading and I wish you luck as always with your adventures in campervan building. What have been the lessons from your build? How does this article apply to your project? Would adore hearing from you in the comments below.
Who's writing this, anyway?
Me, Feta Brown, who dreamed of building a camper van retreat for an embarrassingly long time. In 2015 I plunged into doing just that. Now am enjoying my fully functioning camper van with solar powered array, woodburner, sofa bed, lovely kitchen and composting toilet. I want to empower you to build your own retreat on wheels by sharing my journey and top tips from experts in their fields.