March 22 – Growth and leaning from problems

“I am grateful for all of my problems. After each one was overcome, I became stronger and more able to meet those that were still to come. I grew in all my difficulties.” (J. C. Penney)

You have to tip your cap to someone who can honestly say they are grateful for their past problems. I understand the point that J. C. Penney is making, and I agree that in most cases I have learned from the problems in my life, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say I am grateful that they occurred. There are just some things I wish would never have happened.

There is a tremendous value to having the attitude that every problem is an opportunity to learn. As I have said before, experience is a great teacher. I would not have the skills for solving the problems that come up on projects at work had I not faced similar problems in the past. And, each time a problem comes up, I work with my team to learn from it and make sure that particular problem doesn’t arise again. Learning from mistakes means not only learning how to solve them in the future, but also how to prevent them from happening.

Toward the end of the 2012 camping season my wife and  I noticed some black water coming out of the spigot in our camper. Our immediate thought was that something mechanical must be happening. I thought I was careful to always empty the holding tank, so it didn’t seem that would be the problem. When the camping season finally ended, I took the camper to be winterized and stored. While there I asked them to look into the black water problem.

A few days later the service department called and let me know that I had, indeed, been emptying the holding tank incorrectly, and there was some stuff growing in the bottom of it. They sealed it up for the winter after draining it as best they could. The following spring when I picked it up I had to go through the process of cleaning the tank.

A couple of gallons of bleach, and a summer where we used the tank only for dish cleaning later, the tank is back to a pristine state. The problem I caused by my inexperience took a full season to finally fix. When I winterized the camper at the end of that season I did so knowing that when the 2014 season comes along, the tank will be in good working order.

Solving this problem taught me how to manage the holding tank better. I know more about where relief valves and drain plugs are located. Going forward, I know how to prevent the problem by how I treat the use of the tank.

This is a small example of learning from my mistakes and the problems they caused. I wouldn’t say I am grateful that it happened, but I know that in the future I will not make the mistake again, and that if a problem like this comes up by some other means, I will know how to prevent it.

Life, to me, is about constantly learning. Every day presents me the opportunity to learn and grow. I get to choose whether to take that opportunity, or to just merely continue in my error-prone ways. Most days I choose to learn and improve.

While I may not be as enthusiastic as J.C Penney when it comes to looking at my past problems, I do agree with the premise of this quote that solving problems and learning from them makes me stronger each day. I won’t ever be perfect, the best I can hope for in life is to avoid repeating past mistakes, and improving always.

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