This post comes at the expense, both literally and figuratively, of my boyfriend and his car. Due to a design defect in the factory rotors (part of the braking system), he set out to put better ones on his car. This is not an easy job and one most would have a professional mechanic do. Fortunately, he is more mechanically inclined than most. Also, as a software developer and all-around tech guy, he is able to thoroughly research online and learn the important details of any project that he has not tackled previously, especially a task like this one.
As he started this job, things did not go quite as he had planned. Initially, there were some frustrations with screws being stripped, an unexpected complication. After a trip to two different auto parts stores, he overcame those issues, removed the old front rotors, and the front wheels were completed without further incident. At this point, he was several hours into the process. I checked in and decided it was best that I stay out of his hair. He was clearly tired, but still had the back rotors to tackle.
Unfortunately, the next update I received was a couple of hours later when he came in to report that a wrecker was coming to pick up the car to take it to his mechanic. Ouch! Clearly something had gone terribly wrong. There had been an issue with one of the rear brake calipers. Despite the issues he was having, he had proceeded and rendered his back brakes completely unusable. I could tell he was very frustrated and deflated. I really felt for him. He had tried so hard to get it done.
So why am I relating this story to you? As someone focused on learning and development, I saw the clear lessons in this series of events. As someone intelligent enough to know better, I didn’t share this with him, but decided instead to share it with all of you. You see, later in the evening, he pulled up a YouTube video of someone doing a similar job on his specific model of automobile. As he was watching the video, he sighed heavily as he realized how much easier it would have been to do it that way. Also, the person in the video used a tool that he didn’t have. Poor guy – I really felt for him.
There are a few important lessons in his experience about knowledge and skills, frustration and fatigue, learning, and having the right tools for the job. Unlike his usual approach to projects, he had not thoroughly educated himself before starting this very complicated task. Therefore, he did not have the correct tools or knowledge of the easiest way to do it. He had the skills, but was missing some critical information. Imagine how different his day would have been, if he had seen that video before he ever started. I know that’s what he was thinking as he sighed so heavily. I’m sure most of you can relate. I certainly could. So many times we rush into things without taking a little time to educate ourselves about the best way to complete a task. The sad consequence is that the time we would have spent learning is then spent many times over as we try and try again to complete the task without the benefit of the knowledge and/or best tool for the job.
Another lesson is shown in the fact that, instead of stopping and regrouping, he soldiered on despite his weariness and elevated frustration level. Clearly, he was not at his best and probably should have stopped with the front rotors completed. Tackling the rear ones on another day when he had a fresh outlook, clearer head, and time to do some research might have had a very different outcome. How many times do we continue working when we know we are fatigued and not doing our best work? Having spent my career in law firms, there were many late nights on both legal and IT teams when we all knew we were beyond tired, but we kept at it anyway. I wonder now what were the unintended consequences and costs of doing so? Could we have planned better to keep it from ending up that way? Who besides ourselves paid the price for our stubbornness and potential mistakes?
Maybe next time we should all give ourselves a break, admit that we are human and have limits, take time to learn the easiest way, stop when we should, and use the correct tools for the job at hand, so it doesn’t cost us quite so much.