Spending A Day Failing Teaches You Something

workbench disaster
Sometimes, you spend an entire day wrenching on some type of fantastic automotive project, and it turns into 10 hours of pure, pain-filled, torturous, unstoppable failure. Don’t bother trying to prevent it, because it cannot be done. For my fellow car enthusiast friends, and myself, a complete day full of failure is scheduled against our will once every few months, or anytime after 11pm.  When it happens, you know it.  Bolts will break, fire takes place, parts vanish, and injuries are 100% totally unavoidable.  I’m serious!  The hardest that I have ever been punched was directly in the face with my own fist! That’s a story for another day though. During the course of one of these types of days, each and every second will be worse than the last, but if you give up, you are a quitter. You don’t want to be a quitter right?  Now, after this past weekend, I came to the realization that some good may actually come out of a day of failure. Here is the key: Failing hard will keep a person humble. Let me explain.

The last time I wrote about this subject, I admitted how I often light myself on fire, how I unintentionally destroy every shred of clothing I wear, and how I always seem to find the sharpest object under my hood. This time around, the story has a slightly different plot, but it’s still found in the same section of the library.  This particular story started when I began building my garage last summer.  A good friend of mine, PJ Russell Landscaping did a bunch of digging, cleaning, leveling, filling, and hydro-seeding.  He really did an outstanding job, my lawn is amazing, and I decided that I was going to make him a totally rad custom tool box for one of his trucks as a “thank you” for making my yard better than ever before.

I measured up everything on his truck and about 2 weeks ago I started building a really cool diamond plate aluminum tool box.  It was super heavy duty, ready to accept daily abuse, it locked, had shelves, and really came out professional looking.  By the time I was done, I had around 15 hours of fabrication into it, and I was extremely proud of the way that it turned out.

Last Saturday arrived and he dropped off his truck with me so that I could install his fancy new tool box.  I walked over to the truck with the tool box, and the initial test fit showed that something about the tool box was not quite right.  I stared at it for a moment, double checked all my measurements and found a glaring issue.  It was 2 inches longer than it was supposed to be.  Somewhere between measuring, writing down numbers, copying them down again, and building the tool box, 2 extra inches were added to the width. My stomach sank, and a fine mix of reality and absolute disgust set it quickly.  There was absolutely no possible way that this box was going to fit….ever.  I had no choice, I needed to start over from scratch.  Awful.  So, 15 hours of work – Gone.  About $75 worth of materials – Gone.  All motivation – Gone.  Confidence – Also gone.  I was utterly devastated because I now had to cut up my freshly painted custom tool box to use as parts for the next one.

“Project Tool Box Round 2″ had to begin immediately because I had a limited amount of time before my friend needed his landscaping truck back.  Frantic cutting, welding, and grinding ensued as I raced against the clock.  As each hour passed, I became slightly more unimpressed with how the project was progressing.  The 8 hour mark arrived at the pinnacle of my frustration, and I had just welded the door hinge on backwards.  I suppose that is what I get for attempting to squeeze 15 hours of work into 8. Upon discovery of my hinge reversal mix-up, I threw the white flag in the air, tossed everything that I was holding onto my work bench, turned the lights off, and declared defeat. I was horrified.  My good friend was no longer going to receive a totally rad tool box.  I had now wasted 1500+ psi of Argon, endless amounts of welding filler rod, piles of money, 23 hours of hard work, and my friend had to be without his truck for the day. That is the definition of fail.

When I had completed the first tool box, I was at the top of the world. I stood a little taller, walked with a little more swagger, and said things like “I do concur” and “well done chap!”.  Then, not even 24 hours later, I was completely defeated by the exact same pile o’ non ferrous metal. It was a heart crushing series of events that I don’t even like thinking about. So much time, so much effort, so much money…..  all wasted.  When I was completely shot down from my high horse, it hit me.  I realized that sometimes a total failure can be a good thing.  It keeps you grounded, and gives you practice for the next time you are wrenching on something.  You learn a lot when you fail at things, and you see your limitations.   You find areas were you can improve, and you learn what tasks you are capable of.  A failure filled day makes cold drinks taste that much better, and it even gives you great conversation for the days ahead.  If you can relate, let me know, and remember that when that day arrives in your driveway, just sit back and relax.  Slow down, embrace it, and laugh about how crazy the day is as time passes.  Since you can’t avoid it, and you can’t outsmart it, you might as well learn from it.

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