Always The Hard Way / by Kenneth Buff

Yesterday I burned a pan of oil causing my apartment to fill with smoke. The alarms in my apartment went off as the smoke bellowed out of the kitchen, and I looked up at the sprinklers that are in every room of my apartment and I wondered just how worried I should be. Thankfully the smoke eventually cleared, all of my possessions didn't get coated in a layer of water, and the chicken I was cooking turned out great, but when I looked at the original pan I had started cooking with, now coated with a black layer of burned oil, I realized that all of that could have been avoided had I simply followed the directions the first time.

That's something that's a bit of a problem for me. Not because I hate following directions (I actually love directions for most things...unless it's putting together furniture), but because I always tend to do things the hard way. Always. It just seems to be how I learn. I'm not sure if this is a gift or a curse. I've of course always viewed it in the past as a curse. It's caused me to do a whole lot of things twice. Once the wrong way, and then once the correct way (which often ends up taking longer than it should have because I have to fix the mistakes I made the first time). I do this with almost everything. Cooking, auto repair, publishing, laundry, pretty much everything I do, I tend to do it wrong the first time, and sometimes the first time is a prolonged amount of time. But there's also the fact that I do eventually end up doing it the right way. After I burned the oil in that pan, blackening the bottom of it and filling my house with smoke, I went and cooked the chicken the correct way. I've done this with almost all of my screw ups. Once I've mastered a task, I'll sometimes find myself looking back on the days when I did the task wrong, and I find myself feeling really grateful for having now mastered it (and also a little bitter for having wasted time doing it the wrong way).

I like to think that all my screw ups, and all my bitter feelings about those screw ups, have helped me to do a lot of things right the first time now, in an effort to waste less time. Here's an example: I find myself fixing a lot of my own car problems myself now. (Car won't start? Get on google type in the description of the issue and someone some where will have the exact same thing happened to them, and they'll have described it roughly the way you did, and someone will have told them how to fix it, and then you can search for a video on how to do it if you're looking for even more detailed directions.) When I work on my car, I follow the directions to the T. I don't skip steps, I don't hurry through anything. If the video does it in 10 minutes I'll do it in twenty. And when I'm done, the car works. That's something I've never experienced before: having things I did myself work the first time. (In case you're wondering, my car breaks a lot, so this is a huge skill for me.) It's a great feeling, and it's a skill I contribute to my loathing of having done so many other things wrong the first time. It's instilled a bit of patience in me that I never had before. Because I hate re-doing things, I now tend to try and do them right the first time so I don't have to re-do it.

It doesn't always work out that way of course. I've got the blackened pan in my kitchen to prove it. But for the most part I think my impatience has lead me to patience, by recognizing that I don't like what impatience brings: Do-overs and imperfect results.