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My Favorite Way to Start Something New!!

I’ve done it many different ways.  I’ve waited til the new year….only to fail after one, two,

three, seven, ten, days, weeks, who’s counting.  I fail all the time.  I’ve failed so often that I’ve had less than acceptable thoughts of going forward, but fortunately, I’ve never tried anything, and don’t worry, I don’t have those thoughts now, or at all anymore.  Though, I do feel for anyone that does. And there’s professional help available - in fact, here’s some contact information:  text 988 or call 1-800-273-TALK (1-900-273-8255).

I’ve realized what is far more important than failing - it’s not the starting, and failing quickly.

The worst part is being so afraid of failing that I don’t even start.  It’s somewhat embarrassing, except for realizing that I could start a club, but then again, who wants to join the “I’m afraid to start club?”  Or maybe I should really ask, who’s actually going to start the club, if we are all afraid to start because we’ll fail “starting a club”?  

I’ll bet you’re even curious about some of my failures:

I love playing sports(more than watching them), but I do not remember getting many opportunities to play until I was a teenager.  We lived in the country, and I grew up in a frugal household that paid off our mortgage when there were interest rates in the teens (at that time, it was brilliant to pay off a mortgage to save lots of extra cost from interest). It was actually a good part of one’s investment strategy.  Nevertheless, this meant that we did not allocate much for attending, or participating in sporting events growing up.  And with limited experience, I did not push myself in other ways to build the skills to compete with others once I was older.  

Here’s a success story: 

I think I was about 13 (7th grade), and playing baseball.  I was playing left field.  I have worn glasses since about the 2nd grade, which means I’ve always worn glasses for several years.  I don’t remember why, but I did not have my glasses on.  (Why?!  I have no idea.)  Maybe I was worried about breaking them??  Not a reasonable idea.  Nevertheless, the opposing batter hit a line drive to left field.  The ball, or at least an object that I deemed the ball was coming right at me.  I’m thinking why do I not have glasses on so I can see this ball more clearly?  I vowed that I was not going to miss this catch, so I used my chest as a backstop to catch the brunt of the fly ball.  I did catch it; and a big red spot on my chest.  Apparently, this catch was obvious to many, as the most common comment was, “Are you  ok?  Of course it was, I caught the ball right?  

I took the more local opportunity.

When I graduated with an engineering degree, I had two job offers.  One offer was with a nuclear power company in South Carolina, writing rules and procedures.  The other offer was from the rubber manufacturer in Lincoln, NE, where I would learn to be a rubber chemist.  I took the more local opportunity.  The good part was I was challenged for the first few years.  Then when I wanted more, more was not always readily available.  It was more of a seniority basis.  There was not a lot of mentoring going on…..and the further you were away from the customer, the less opportunity to make changes that could be related to the product without extensive testing.  It made for slow change unless it had to do with a new product release.  Not like the iPhone and the frequent updates we get to continually improve the product.  Though, I do acknowledge that sometimes those changes could come at more opportune times.  🙂

Here’s another success/failure story from my rubber chemist career. 

In the 1990’s and prior, our plant was known for the amount of solvents used to apply thin layers of rubber cement to treat fabric.  (Being #1 is often a good thing, until it has to do with being the top polluter in the state.) 

My project was to find more environmentally friendly solvents that would get us off of the top polluter in the state registry.  I accomplished this; but change sometimes has negative side effects.  The new solvent had a more noticeable odor.  The general consensus was that it smelled worse.  And then the thought was if it smells worse, it must be more harmful, not less harmful.  (Quite untrue, but it is difficult to use logic to counteract emotion.  Ever try to convince your child, or in my case, grandchildren, that vegetables are good for you.  Yeah, same kind of situation.)  A couple other examples - Carbon dioxide compared to the more deadly, but has no odor, carbon monoxide.  Would you really rather not smell it?  Or even natural gas…..did you know the smell comes from an additive , as natural gas is odorless. 

Nevertheless, I developed the use of a perfume to mask the unpleasant smells.  Consider how much perfume a person uses compared to their body mass.  This is similar to the proportion that was used when making a batch of cement. A small amount of perfume compared to the mass of other materials.  And yet, before we could formally introduce the use of perfume to the benefit of the workers, we had to do countless hours of belt life testing in order to get the product engineer’s approval.  We almost had to do as much testing as we did to replace the solvent.  It was frustrating how slow material changes could be made compared to the potential for success that they would provide.  In this situation, it would have made more sense to add the perfume early in the test cycle, continue follow-up testing and solve the problem rather than force an uncomfortable change upon the people.

There’s a small trick I’ve learned in the process of all of this.

It started to develop with one of the more progressive department managers that I had.  With this manager, there was a strong willingness to gauge potential outcome and success with the change and cost/expense/risk  involved. I’ve carried this forward many times, and have learned that the most successful put this into practice frequently.  It’s not revolutionary, but it is progressive.  It is incredibly valuable to review, reflect and study when we fail, because then we can learn what to do even better the next time.

It’s a fresh new year and today is the day to begin. 

Not tomorrow, or yesterday, well that was yesterday so don’t look back and kick yourself for missing any more opportunities, move forward today my friend!

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