The Satisfaction of Failing and Learning

Lifelong learning is a scary path, but it can be so satisfying if you have the grit, curiosity, persistence, and patience. You need to be very vulnerable to admit that you know very little about a subject, and you will for sure fail multiple times along the journey of learning. You might not get support from people around you, and in the beginning, it will trigger a very strong emotion(fear) as a human being. Let me use one of my recent experiences of repairing my roof to illustration five phases of learning. Fear, basic knowledge, validation, practice, excellence.

Fear. Fear is because of the unknown, don’t stop here. Your fear will be gone soon. As a first-time owner of a house, I’m like a kinder-gardener of house maintenance. When I discovered a leak on my roof, my curiosity makes me crave to start learning, and my engineering self is trying to convince me that I can fix anything. I know how much I don’t know, I never climbed up on a roof, what kind of tool or materials I need and how severe the leak is. For many days, I’m thinking about killing the idea, by thinking about how much damage I can do to my new home and other thousand reasons to prove it’s a terrible idea. I’m afraid to mention such a crazy idea to my wife because I can already see her reaction. It’s not the right time to tell anyone now until I know what I’m doing.

Basic knowledge. Overcome fear by learning basic knowledge. Convince people by showing how instead of what. You can learn anything online, anything. Youtube is my friend, typing a few keywords, pick a few videos with good ratings and impressions. Now I have a shopping list in my home depot cart for tools and materials, and I know that changing shingles is a relatively easy job that only requires shingle, nail, hammer, and shingle adhesive. That’s something I can manage. My fear is gone at this point, and it’s time to enter the next stage to validate my ideas about repairing. I told my wife that I’m going to repair the roof myself, and of course, the answer I got back is “What?! Are you crazy?!”. After showing her a carefully picked youtube video, which is 5 mins and shows all key steps, her fear is gone as well. “Oh it’s not that complicated,” she said. I know it won’t be that simple, but at least I convinced her I can manage it. As an engineer, I know not every step will go smoothly and I need to handle multiple “exceptions” along the way. It’s time for me to know what “exceptions” I’m going to get.

Validation. Validate your idea with a person having more experience and knowledge than you. Then you can learn specific knowledge according to your project. I hired a professional to give me a plan, and that’s the fee well-paid. He inspected the roof and gave me a better idea of what needs to be done. He gave me specifics that I won’t get from learning basics on Youtube. And there is no way that I as a beginner knows about these things. He provided me the following info

  • The leak is from the edge of the chimney
  • There are missing flashing along with my chimney which is most likely the cause of the leak
  • About 5x5 feet of shingles need to be replaced
  • Replace shingle starting from the lower side
  • Cost is x
    Now that I know what specific things that my project needs, I can go back to Youtube and search those keywords and equip myself with all knowledge I need to complete the project.

Practice. Enjoy the failure as well as the success, keep practicing and learning. Now it’s the time to apply knowledge to practice. I know I have learned enough knowledge to know what to do in the best-case scenario, but there will be multiple “exceptions” that I need to learn to handle along the way. Searching skill + “pitfall”/“newbie mistakes” is highly recommended. Of course, as expected, I failed multiple times while doing the actual work. Since I expect to learn by failing, I didn’t feel very discouraged when I failed. Instead, I was very patient and persistent to find the best way to resolve the issues. Here are a few examples of failures

  • Spray adhesive is the wrong type and I should use paste adhesive
  • Old shingle is very easily damaged. I have to replace much more than 5x5 because of that.
  • Most dangerous part of the project is to get on and off of the roof. Moving all materials and tools onto the roof with as few trips as possible is very important to reduce the chance of injury.
  • I failed to replicate the leaking by spraying water around the area. Thus, I failed to confirm my repairment was leak-free. But I know it is much better than before.
    It took me three days and multiple trips to home depot to finish the project, but I’m very happy about the whole experience of applying my five-step learning techniques to my home maintenance projects.

Excellence. Keep iterating and improve proficiency and experience. If I want to be good at repairing the roof, I need to do it lots of times(the 10,000-hour rule) and accumulate experience through practice. I’m pretty sure the second time I do it, I will do better. But I’m also sure that I will fail for different reasons, that is expected and the only way for me to get better.

The sunset I saw after completing the project was gorgeous and I was very happy. And I know it’s the happiness that I can repeat as long as I keep learning.