Lessons I can’t seem to Learn

I recently read an entertaining and thought-provoking post that a friend of mine wrote entitled: It’s My Birthday! Here’s A Lesson For Every Year I’ve Lived.  As I read the list of lessons he had learned I found myself thinking that if I were to make a similar list, my answers would nearly mirror his.  That is,  with the exception of lesson #26;  I agree with The Office, but I’d have to place Psych as the close second.

After reading the post, I enjoyed it so much that I began one of my own.  But like I mentioned before, it was nearly an exact duplicate of what I had read.  So rather than doing a very poor job of plagiarism, I decided that maybe instead of focusing on lessons I have learned, maybe I need to focus on the lessons I just CAN’T seem to learn.

I’m not going to try and come up with one for every year of my life because, well frankly, I don’t want to admit that I can easily come up with 34 lessons that I can’t seem to learn.  But also because I believe in baby steps.  So I’ll just start with a few and once I’ve mastered those, maybe we can revisit the subject.

So here we go! 10 Lessons that I just CAN’T seem to learn:

1- Not every bump in the road results in a worst case scenario.
I had the chance to visit with my oldest sister at length today and as we spoke of some different challenges we were facing in our lives she mentioned that she was pretty confident that anxiety was an inherited trait from my father’s side of the family.

You see, I have this impulse to jump to what the worst case scenario would be when something goes wrong; I spot an oil leak under my vehicle and it means the whole engine has exploded, or, I have a message from my loan officer at the bank saying “can you call me as soon as you get a chance” and suddenly my whole business is in ruins in my mind.

Okay, I usually don’t stray that far from reality, but I’ll give you an example from today on this.  So I walk into my office and go to make a plate on my plate maker.  (A plate is basically the “master image” that my printing presses use to print from.  So it is a key component to every job.)  I had just received a rush order that I needed to pound out real quick before I could head for home.

I go in, flip the switch on the platemaker and nothing…….. so I turn it off and back on again.  Still nothing.  My heart starts to pound and my mind begins to race.  I pull my ear bud out so I can focus and switch it on again……I can hear a faint “tick” from inside and a very quiet “hum” but it is not making the sounds that it should.

This is when my world begins to spiral out of control. I immediately determine that some crucial circuit inside the machine has failed and now the machine won’t run.  This means that I am going to: A. Miss my rush order deadline which will lead to my client loosing faith in me and possibly pulling jobs.  B. I’ll have to hire a technician to come and fix the problem and he has to come from a minimum of 200 miles away meaning days down and a HUGE bill to be paid.  And finally C. The machine is old enough that it can’t be fixed because parts are discontinued so I now not only have to pay the HUGE technician bill but also somehow find the money to purchase a new machine.

Well, while I was pulling at my thick head of hair and checking my pulse to make sure I didn’t go into cardiac arrest, I happened to notice the set of switches that are right at the eye level of my 2 year old son.  Long story short, even though we have told him 927,321 times not to push the buttons, he found the most critical switch and flipped it into the off position restricting the platemaker from fully powering up.

And so the story goes: The leak from the car is simply a loose drain plug and the bank called to let me know financing would be easier than they anticipated.  I think back and realize that pretty much never have I experienced the worst case scenario, and even further than that, 95% of the time the solution is super simple and easy.  So why do I continue to jump to the worst case scenarios???

2- 9 out of 10 times pizza is going to give me heartburn.  Seriously dude, I know that one time it didn’t, but guaranteed the next 9 times it will and you will regret it.  So if you are going to take that chance, be willing to live with the consequences without whining about it the entire evening.

3- You will NEVER have your kids figured out.  I think I went into having children with the same naivety that I went into my business with.  I was raised in a family with 4 other siblings; 2 older sisters, one older brother, and one younger sister.  A good mix.  I had a chance to watch my older siblings get married and have kids of their own and had taken mental notes of what I approved of in their child rearing and things I didn’t approve of.  My wife and I also spent countless hours researching the best techniques that Joe and Cesar offered on Supernanny and Dog Whisperer.

Everyday I determine a new solution that WILL solve the problem and put me back on top again and everyday I am on the bottom with some strange stunned look glazing over my eyes.  I can’t figure them out, but I keep telling myself that I can AND will.

4- No matter how well thought out that list is that you made for the hardware store, you will make a minimum of three trips before you complete your project.

5-The general public is NOT as observant as you think they are/should be.
The winter season tends to be a bit slower for me at my business.  Even better, my largest clients are either pretty much shut down for the winter season, or choose the week between Christmas and New Years to close down and run on a skeleton crew.  So it is a great opportunity for me and my associates to close down, take several days off, and enjoy a well deserved break.

I usually try to close that entire week as well, but some of my staff wish to work during that break so they don’t miss out on too many hours for their next check.  So, to make a happy compromise our hours of operation are a bit irregular for about two weeks around the holidays.

After coming back from that Christmas break, and back to our normal schedule, I happened to be out working on a rouge computer as one of my staff approached the counter to help a customer who had just walked through the door.  The customer immediately opened the conversation with “I thought you were closed!?!”.  My staff member politely said “Nope, we are here from 10am – 6pm Monday-Friday, how can we help you?”.  The customer’s response: “No, I mean I thought you had closed for good!”.

Come to find out she had come to our business during that span that our hours were a bit irregular.  She had made the trip twice and tried calling our phone a few times as well.  She just happened to catch us each time on a day that we were off and came to the conclusion that we had shut our doors for good.

I was not only quite concerned and started to lapse into panic mode worried about how many other customers had made the same assumption (refer to item 1), but I was quite astonished and honestly a bit irritated.

You see, I had made every effort to warn and notify our customers of our irregular schedule during that time period.  These notifications began before Thanksgiving with a vibrantly designed and printed, 13×19 inch poster, eye-level on our glass door and smack dab on the top of our front counter right next to the register.  Also, we added a special announcement on our voicemail message and auto-replies on our emails.

So how did this lady manage to miss the printed poster on our door and the voicemail message on our phone when she came, and called, more than once!?!?!  And these experiences happen on a regular basis.  So why in the world do I fret and worry so much about notifying my customers of our hours of operation, or any information really, when without fail they fail to notice it?

6- You aren’t a teenager anymore.  On a recent excursion to a ruin, I found myself about 7 feet from the ground on a rock outcropping.  I had climbed up there to get a closer look and to do some photography of the ruin that had been built there thousands of years earlier.

The sensible thing to do would be to shimmy down in a slow, methodical, controlled decent.  But what is the fun in that?  The juniper trees spread below me and the grit I felt under my hands awakened my senses as I viewed the ground sloping before me.

My mind raced back to my youth and the races my brother and I would have down the steep slopes that fell away from the towering red-rock mesas we were raised under.  We would turn to eye each other and a telling grin would creep to our faces….and then we were off!  Both of us tearing down the hillsides, our shoes filling with sand, leaping over bushes, side-stepping un-earthed roots, doing fancy-footwork from rock to rock, all in a semi-controlled amateurish form of parkour as the adrenaline pumped through our veins.  Gravity pulled at us as we pumped our legs in long strides descending like a snowball only gaining mass, and speed, the further it tumbled down the hill.

Finally we’d find ourselves at the bottoms heaving in and out as we laughed and enjoyed the satisfaction of yet another successful descent.  I honestly don’t remember that we ever kept track of who won the race; I think at this point we were pretty well matched in size and speed.  But time and time again the challenge would arise and neither of us would, or wanted, to back down.

So I sat there in a squat at the edge of the outcrop readying myself for the type of leap I had done a thousand times before.  After all, my buddy had just done it and he’s hardly younger than me.

I leapt, landed, and cushioned the momentum by a three step jog to a halt.  I then turned and proceeded to put my camera away safely in its bag as a strained perplexing look crossed my face in an attempt to cover up the discomfort I had just felt.

You see, as I landed I proceeded to feel every joint in my body jar together in a compression that was so sudden and shocking.  But I couldn’t focus on that on account of my love handles and, well I don’t know how else to put this, man boobs plummeting down to my ankles, then up to my eyes, and finally back to their original location….well maybe a few centimeters lower now.  It felt like a shock-wave hitting my body suddenly reminding myself that I am twice the age my mind thinks I am and about 60 pounds heavier than my mind remembers me being.

This again happens time and time and time again.  You’d think that I could simply look down and be reminded of these painful, yet true, facts of life.  But somehow that doesn’t register until after I have preformed the stunt.

7- My wife is right even if I don’t think she is…. If you need an explanation or example for this, my guess is that you haven’t been married or you have at least two ex-wives.

8- Soda is bad for you…..full stop. And yet I find myself sitting here, massaging the keyboard, sipping on a cold soda.  Referring back to item 6; I know that the additional weight I carry is from: A- My bad eating habits (I’ll save that one for another day).  B- Stress.  C- Soda.  I have heard time and time again stories of those men who simply cut out soda and immediately lose 20 pounds.  Along with the weight loss, other health benefits would follow as your body stops depending on the sugars and other ingredients that are mixed into that fizzy goodness.  So why can’t I just say goodbye to the beautiful, ice cold, fizzy sweet drink and hello to a more sexy me?

9- Stepping away for a minute can often be the quickest way to solve a problem.  I have proven this method so many times.  In fact, I think this method may be what has contributed to my soda habit as stepping away wold step me towards the fountain drinks across the street.

At my print shop I find myself wearing many different hats, often switching that hat up to 10 times in one hour.  I remember venting to my wife some time a go and coming to the realization that instead of having the title of “Owner/Operator” in our business, my title should actually read “Fireman” because I feel like some days all  I do is put out fires.

A copy machine is jammed and they can’t figure out how to clear it, then there is a price question that needs to be answered, we are out of paper and this job is due tomorrow, the PC isn’t connecting to the KIP…..AGAIN!, this customer has a complaint about the job they picked up three weeks ago, and on and on it goes.

On days like this I find myself in the shop, alone, completely dark outside because it is now 9pm and I am pushing further into an already 11 hour work day.  I have finally started working through the jobs that I needed to complete that day and all I can think about is getting home to my soft, comfy, recliner.

Then it happens……when I only have 1,500 more sheets to run before I can do a quick clean up and head for home, some random issue presents itself.  It doesn’t matter that the press has run perfectly for the last 15,000 impressions.  It has decided to start acting in protest when faced with the last 10% of the job.

Usually what happens is that I start frantically trying to make it run with little or no effort.  I mean, I’m nearly there!  If I can just limp it along and get the job over with…..  But typically, it isn’t enough and I eventually realize that the issue needs more attention than I was willing to give.

As I dig deeper into the issue I begin to gain Tunnel Vision.  I become so focused on solving the problem, getting more and more agitated and frustrated with every minute that passes, that I eventually jerk out of the machine with steam coming out of my ears shrieking out like a crazed bandit and throwing something hard at the ground to prove my alpha position among the machines that cower in my presence.

This very scenario happened not too long ago.  I want to say that I was hitting about the 11:30pm mark.  My plan for that day had started off really well.  I was feeling chipper and motivated.  Things were going my way and only added to my positive momentum…..and then I went to work.  From there it just spiraled out of control.  I was rushing from station to station with my fire-hose putting out that fire, or at least containing it, and then moving on to the next call.  Finally about closing time I was able to make an exhausted start on my jobs.

I pushed through one by one, checking it off of my list and climbing back into the drivers’ seat of the next one.  So why now?  Why couldn’t you just keep running strong until the last job was done so we can both just shut down and go home?  I towered over my Heidelberg press heaving in and out deep breaths as my hands trembled slightly.  Finally, I stormed out of the door and into the dark night.

I paced the parking lot for a moment.  A one-sided argument building and defending myself in my mind.  Finally I decided that this anger and tension that had wound itself up so tightly inside of me was not doing the situation any good.  So I took a walk.

With a population of right around 5000, the town is pretty well silent at this hour.  The streets were empty, and the buildings dark.  The temperature was pretty much perfect and I could finally feel my blood pressure settling back down to a normal state.  My stride had fallen into a rhythm as I rounded the corner and headed down the next street.

I tried hard to push the feelings of anxiousness to get home I had inside.  Trying to calm the whiny “why me” voice that had risen up inside of me.  I was crashing my pity party but the way a loving friend would so as not to show my irritation with myself, but to empathize in a constructive manner as I guided myself back to a solution to the problem.

20 minutes later the last sheets were coming off of the press.  A quick clean-up and the keys were swinging around my finger as I walked across the parking lot to my car.  I couldn’t help but chuckle inside reflecting on how simple the solution was.  Why was it so hard to see at first?

I hate to admit it, but similar scenarios happen to me all the time.  And in each case  I always push harder, thinking frantically that I just need to hurry and figure this out so I can move on; I don’t have time for this problem so I need a solution now!  But in every case if I had just calmed down, taken a step back, and approached it with a different attitude, I could have solved the problem much quicker than the hyper-agitated focused me.

10- Do it right the first time.  This can quite literally apply to every aspect of life from hiring new employees to parenting.  Setting the standard on the first day will solve so many problems in the years to come.

I recently spent two days scrubbing and cleaning until I had more forearm burn than Popeye after eating a can of spinach.  What was meant to be a standard check-up on my printing press had turned into a thorough work-over because I was not doing the simple things on my daily clean-ups.  That lackadaisical approach to my daily clean-ups meant that inks hardened and built up in areas they weren’t supposed to causing pressure issues, loss of image quality, and many more issues besides the amount of effort and time it took to bring it back to how it was supposed to be.

It never ceases to amaze me how easy something is to maintain versus making the larger corrections down the road when issues start to show themselves.  And yet, I am still having to learn that lesson again and again.

Well, there you have it!  10 lessons that I just CAN’T seem to learn.  I’m sure you have a list of your own, and maybe you will laugh to yourself at a few of these because they mirror a few of yours.  But at the end of the day it bothers me that I not only see the problem, but I have also identified the solution to most of these.  So why can’t I simply implement the solution and move forward a better man?

 

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