Look and Learn

Everyone has heard the phase “Live and Learn”, but I think it’s time to adapt this phase to “look and learn”. Stick with me here and let me know if I start rambling. Over the past, well, forever I can remember, I’ve been mechanically somewhat gifted and generally don’t have any problems discovering how something works. This can go for one of those wind up race cars you have as a kid that breaks when you pull it back too far because you wanted it to hit a sick jump, or it can go for a Magnetic Resonance Imager. Ok, I did take a little toy car apart but haven’t had the chance to mess with an MRI machine yet. If anyone knows of one that is getting tossed I’d love to take a screwdriver to it. But I digress. The point I’m trying get to is that you should always be wanting to learn more. In my case, I generally think in a systematic way and hence am prone to wanting to look at mechanically driven items. You might be different, and that’s perfectly fine! The more diversity that we have in the world the better and more learned we all become. There is one issue that gets me to shake my head. Even in a world of smart phones and the internet at our fingertips, some people (maybe most people, I haven’t actually counted) are content to live in ignorant bliss of how things work. This becomes a problem when they refuse to attempt something because they “don’t have any idea how” to go about attacking the problem. Let’s get this straight, I’m not talking about proprietary high-end machines, rocket science, or computer science. I’m talking about simple user friendly user interfaces.

I walked into the gym to see my Athletic Trainer Coach (ATC) this morning. ATCs are essentially a cross between a physical therapist and a strength coach. You’ll find them most often in the collegiate and professional sports teams. Allen suggests I warm up on the bike before starting on the ProPio machine. The ProPio is a machine with a circular platform that you stand on, generally with one foot, and the platform begins to pitch, yaw, and roll while you do your best to keep from falling and bashing your teeth into the hand rails. The hope is that all this pitch, yaw, and roll will help strengthen your feet and ankles. Of course the unit is computer controlled. I should mention that this is not my first time on the ProPio. So after about 15 minutes on the stationary bike I head over and step up onto the ProPio, scroll through the menu, select my profile, verify that the program looks good, hit start on the computer screen, and hit the manual red start button. About this time Allen comes jogging over. He had been on the phone with tech support since the computers never seem to work in that office. He promptly hits the stop button. “What are you doing?” he asks. “Just starting the program,” I reply. He looks at the screen, “Hey, everything looks good. Let’s get you started. Oh, how did you know how to get this going?” I’m truly mystified at that last comment. The user interface has five options: Start/Stop, Back, Next, Menu, and Power. I suppose if you count the arrow keys and the pop-up keyboard the number would go up. After telling Allen pretty much those last two sentences verbatim, he admits, “Yeah, I really don’t care about this thing. So it took me about a month to figure it out.”

Why is it that people are content to just not know things? I understand the time, effort, and priorities issues. I just wrote about that earlier today. No, what I don’t understand is, when time is not an issue and you’ve already got effort invested, how people just ignore things and don’t put in the effort. As a team communicator back in the day, I hated being in charge of the radios. Why? Two reasons. First, “comm” is probably the lousiest job to have because it is thankless and whenever the communications drop out (which can happen very frequently and literally only God knows why) the communicator is blamed. I could be half a city away and it would still be my fault. The second reason is that NO ONE else wanted to learn anything about a radio. I showed, taught, and rehearsed with guys how to load their personal radios hundreds of times. A day later and they’ve “forgot” how to do it. Someone being honest would say they just didn’t want to learn it. More work for me. Oh well, those days are behind. But the ever present, “I don’t know how to…” still rings true.

So, back to the topic. Look and learn. Ever watch a young child, any age between 0-4, and how hungry they are to learn about the world? When did we lose that? Granted, some of the time they probably are very hungry for real food, not knowledge. Nonetheless, why don’t we cultivate that intellectual thirst as we grow? It’s not reasonable to learn everything out there on the internet or in all the world’s books, but one can still have an inquisitive mind. I mentioned smart phones earlier. Please note, I’m not advocating that you run around staring at the screen and putting a kink in your neck. They can become just as much a hinderance and a crutch as they can be a helper. I knew one person who would never use it even for the GPS. She got lost a lot. I knew another person who used the GPS on her smart phone almost everywhere she went. She got lost a lot too. God forbid the cell service fails.

One lesson that I told some of my junior Marines once upon a time: “Before you ask a question, look at your hand. If your smart phone is in your hand or pocket and it can answer your question, ask the smart phone first.” Again, I’m not advocating a society that is so dependent on technology that they literally get lost without it. I’m advocating for a world where people ask questions, learn from what they see, and aren’t afraid to dive into a new topic they were wondering about. After giving that advice to my Marines, you’d be surprised about how many of them started surprising me with what they knew!

The First Step

For the past year or two, I’ve been contemplating my next move, debating the options in my head, and making a decision only to back step or fail to start it. Why was I looking for something? I was looking to supplement my income. The reasons nothing got started are simple and straightforward: priorities, time management, and motivation. Of course, not every idea was created equal. Some of these options that I dreamed up required much more time and effort develop and turn into realities than others. As an avid woodworker and generally handy guy the first ventures that I came up with were directly related to these skills of mine. I went from thinking of woodworking projects to knife making to cornering the aluminum can market.

It wasn’t that I don’t like doing all those things I mentioned above, because I do. It’s not because they couldn’t make money; most could garner a nice profit. The reasons I never really launched those ideas were because I had conflicts with my priorities, wasn’t making time for these projects largely because they weren’t priorities, and overall didn’t feel I needed to put the work in. The time management aspect also wasn’t helped any by my additional, self-imposed workload as well as primary profession. While all these ideas were swirling through my head I was going through train-up cycles with my unit, applying to business school, and trying to force myself to study for a Lean Six Sigma Green Belt. So, I didn’t do anything I planned, brainstormed, or even started. (I actually made an Etsy.com store for the woodturnings and a website for the knives) If I was going to get motivated to do something extra, I need to change things up a bit.

PRIORITIES:¬†The first event that needs to take place if you’re having trouble completing any task, implanting any idea, or working towards any project is setting your priorities straight. I know that everyone has heard this before, but it’s very much true. While I mulled over all those ideas and more in my head, I didn’t need the extra cash Meanwhile at the rest of my life other events were happening that took over more of the limited brain power. I didn’t like it at all. As I was working through the night at the TOC (Tactical Operations Center) and starting work again at 7 after 3 hours of sleep, it’s safe to say that my priorities were still hidden in that uniform. Having your job as your primary priority isn’t a bad thing. It just limited me from being able to pursue anything extra.

One method of implementing new priorities that I think of comes out of my mental resiliency model. The first step is to set reasonable goals that can be accomplished. That may be all the changing of the priorities shake up you need. Or you may need to quit your job and go all out if your ambitions are leading you in that direction. You might say that I went all out to start this blog, but I didn’t. I just finally realized an achievable goal that I had previously considered not worth the effort. It just so happens that I’m also leaving the military service, which certainly has added some urgency to get started.

TIME¬†MANAGEMENT:This is a big one. It also comes with experience. As I mentioned above, I was more than filling my time up with the “important” tasks that I didn’t even have time to think any more about these additional tasks. Personally, I think that the time management can be developed through the same process as before by realigning goals and priorities. Great! But that doesn’t really help. Yep, that’s right. Time management is not nearly as large and overarching as priorities are. Instead, time management is much more tactical instead of strategic.

Earlier tonight I was talking to a fellow MBA student about time management during studying. Knowing and adhering to a set time management plan will pay dividends to you in the long run, whether during study or work. The long and short of time management is setting a plan and sticking to the plan. Multiple times in my career when going through a difficult course a professor would come and speak to us about study habits. All they were are time management skills: identify your goals, set time limits on each step of the process you’ve identified to meet your goals, stick to your timeline, and don’t forget to give yourself a break. Obviously, the first time that you make a time management plan, the times will be all wrong either too short or too long. However, just like anything else in life the more you work at it the better your estimates will become. If I had actually made myself some time management plans, I would have found time to complete some of the ideas that I had come up with before.

MOTIVATION:¬†Here we come to the tricky aspect of getting things done. Motivation is difficult to understand and even more difficult to find if you don’t have it. Without some motivation, there’s no way that you will finish or even begin either of the other two steps. I’m a little sparse on the advice I can give in this area. But I can offer this: tie whatever your goals are to something relevant and urgent. The surest way to lose motivation for a project is if it is irrelevant or not needed. When I was brainstorming all my ideas, there was no current relevance or necessity behind doing any of it so I simply didn’t do it. If I had needed to start those business ideas because I needed the money or had a boss telling me to start them the chances they would have got off the ground are much higher.

Another something that you can try for motivation is faking it until you make it. If you haven’t heard of this concept before or are skeptical don’t worry. There are plenty of studies out there showing the value of things like power posing and showing “false confidence” when public speaking and whatnot. The first time I encountered false motivation was when I was brand new in the military and was told that fake motivation is better than no motivation. Once you force yourself to start pretending like you care, are excited, have energy, or want to do something you’ll actually begin to change your outlook on it. Eventually, that false or fake motivation will turn into real motivation.

So why did I end up with this blog instead of making and selling high-end kitchen knives? The answer is that I had a change in my environment and shifted my priorities around. I’m still busy. Transitioning out of the military can be a full-time job on its own not to mention my full time military job, business school, and running a house while trying to sell it. Needing a supplemental income just became more important to me. Because this earning of a second income has become more important, I’ve forced myself to manage my time so that I can fit the writing of this into my day. And probably most importantly, I’ve found some motivation to use behind this endeavor. As I mentioned earlier, I need it to help my resume and eventually give me some cash back for my time and effort. I won’t lie to you though, the hardest part about this whole process is pulling the trigger on it. So, go ahead, kick things off by taking that first step.