• Daniel Kephart

Hands-On: A Character Building View of Work

Today's piece is a guest contribution from Mr. Ian Hopkins, founder of the MadFab project. At the core of MadFab are values of independence, craftsmanship, and environmental awareness.

As someone who considers himself a hands-on learner, I often wondered in my school days if there was something intrinsically wrong with me. I didn't feel challenged by high school, but struggled finding motivation to turn in work on a deadline. No Child Left Behind afforded me the ability to retake and redo and extend deadlines as much as I wanted. Unfortunately, I made this decision frequently. At times, I would leave weeks of work undone only to cram it into a handful of days at the end of the semester.


So, as you might image, college threw me for a loop. While I'm semi-successful now, I dropped out three times (sorry, Mom!). Along the way, though, I’ve learned firsthand what works for me and what does not. What works, is what I like to think of as the Grubby Mitts method (trademark pending). The Grubby Mitts goes a little like this:


1: Have a well -defined project in mind. Write it down.


2: Safely attempt (with minimal research off the bat).


3: Fail miserably and spectacularly.


4: Research why you failed.


5: Repeat steps 2 through 4 until you succeed.


The human race and the modern paradigms it possesses put failure in an interesting place. On motivational social media pages, most attention is directed towards the dizzying heights one can reach. There's little focus on the startlingly deep abyss one can fall into. Many of us are more afraid of social rejection than we are of snakes, insects, and spiders combined. Not too mention, social rejection actually registers the same as extreme physical pain in our brains.


So if we are paralyzed by fear of failure, why would the Grubby Mitts method work? Well, there have been studies that show that the more effort someone puts into learning and retaining information, the more likely it will stick around. There is also evidence that suggests our brains are unconsciously pessimistic, as negative memories and experiences are stronger when recalled than positive ones. This is great for hunter-gatherer brains and avoiding danger, but not as much for our modern lives.


With these points in mind, the Grubby Mitts method also has several character benefits. Inversely like an addict builds tolerance to a drug over time, continued exposure to controlled failure will lessen its stranglehold on the practitioner’s psyche. The confidence that comes with hands on work and tinkering lasts a lifetime. Also from a fiscal viewpoint it gives you the skills and knowledge to land a job, or at the very least a practical side hustle.


From my own experience, there is no greater feeling of accomplishment than making something broken work again. Having those skills also permanently shifts your view of the world. Tinkering will open doors, both tangible and cognitive. Have skills, will travel.


The only real failure in life is not learning from your circumstances when you do not succeed.



Note from the editor: As always, we want to stress the importance of safety in undertaking any new project. Get guidance from an experienced mentor so that you can embark on your journey of skill-acquisition in a safe, effective manner.


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