You are here

The Gift


Perhaps the greatest gift I ever received was given to me by my father.  I'm sure he didn't realize it at the time, it is just part of who he is, but my brothers and I all now possess this same gift.

When we were children we watched (and often helped) our father and learned.  He always assumed that he could do pretty much anything that came his way, whether it was fixing cars, the house, or assembling some new gadget he had purchased.  If it was something he didn't know anything about, he might buy a book on the subject and use it for reference.  It wasn't just his assumption that he could do it that taught us, it was also what became sort of a standing joke: he would say to us "When all else fails, read the instructions!"

  This was a reflection of an approach which often started with just trying to figure out how to do it and doing that first (and possibly a second or even third try).  Instructions were at times almost viewed as a last resort - we should be able to figure out how to do it!  This occasionally resulted in disaster, but we learned from all of it.  Figuring it out ourselves gave us greater analytical abilities, and figuring out how to fix things after a disaster taught us more, not least  of which was that failure was simply part of the process, so I don't have a fear of failure the way other people often do.  It wasn't until I was 17 years old that I realized that other people I knew did not grow up like this.  Most of them were generally unprepared to tackle the problems they encountered in the way that I would - they didn't just assume they could do it, and fear of failure would prevent many of them from trying.  If I wanted to do something or know something, I would simply start playing with it.  If it was complicated, I would get some books on the subject and try to figure it out.  When I was 14 years old I taught myself what amounted to a year of high school chemistry without realizing it - it was a side effect of my obsession with fuel cells (I realized it later when I finally took high school chemistry).

The end result of all this is that throughout my life I tend to view everything as an opportunity to learn more, so I am always ready to try new things.  Failure is simply an indication that I should perhaps try a different approach, and in the worst case, maybe I will check to see if anyone has written some instructions I can use.

Before starting something new, you should learn enough to take proper safety precautions if needed, but don't let your fears of failure or lack of knowledge in a particular subject keep you from doing what you want.  In my experience failure teaches you far more than success does, and ignorance of a subject can often allow you to come up with new approaches that haven't been tried before.  At the very least, learning and trying new things will exercise your brain and possibly help you to find a new direction for your life if you are looking for one.