First a little background. I’m a smart person, I’m no dummy. I paid attention in elementary and middle school and later in high school. I earned a bachelor’s degree from a large public, research-based school. If we’re getting into resume specifics, I later took night classes to get a Master’s in Business Administration. Heck, I even have a professional certification from a prestigious Ivy League School that I promise I didn’t pilfer from a Cracker Jack Box.
I read my local news. I follow national and world events. I keep abreast of things happening around me and in my career field. Why the curriculum vitae and the focus on all the background information?
If I’m so smart, then how come my local auto mechanic, can make me feel incredibly small and dumb?
I had to take my car to the shop this week and I left the shop feeling about the size of an ant. He was explaining why my “check engine light” lit up on my dashboard and the work he had completed to get the car back on the road. If I could repeat what he said, I would, but I’m pretty sure that if I started to describe it here, I would soon head down some farfetched path, use the wrong terminology, and look even more foolish.
So I repeat, if I’m so smart, then how come my mechanic can me make me look so silly. Or is it just me?
A lost cause
Let me explain. I stopped by the garage to see what had caused the “check engine light” problem and to pick up my car. With maintenance costs so high, in the this case costing more than $550, I take an active interest in probing for answers on the work being done and how I can prevent future problems. I was able to keep up with the mechanic’s description for a short period. “Yup, yup, yup, I understand, keep going,” I told him when he first started explaining what was wrong, but his description soon lost me. I mean really lost me, lost somewhere between Montana and Idaho, in a dark, dark wilderness, all by myself, and with no way out.
Oh I tried to make my way back civilization or, in my case, something representing reality. In fact, I even interrupted him once to ask him to slow down, and another time to follow-up on something he said that I didn’t quite understand. He was patient and easy-going about the situation, but it still didn’t matter. I was lost and confused to the point that if I really were in the woods my GPS would simply wave a little white flag.
Where did I go wrong?
In some ways, I’m surprised it’s gotten to this point. When I was growing up, my father made sure that I worked on the family car, helping change the oil or replacing our worn-out brake pads. If he had witnessed my conversation, he would have most certainly rolled over in his grave. Two of my friends who regularly work on their own cars as a hobby on the weekend would have rolled their eyes too. With all their help, I’m still a lost soul.
Despite a lifetime of driving and forcing myself to read-up on engines, I’ve just never been the mechanical type. I understand the basics and I take relatively good care of my wife’s and my car, but my knowledge has its limits. It’s not from lack of respect. I have a ton of respect for the mechanics I’ve met in my life and for all the mechanical people I know. I just don’t find it all that interesting. It bores me.
Why this, but not that
Surprisingly, I can tell you the inner workings of a complex, new IT tool that we’re launching at my work. I’m even considered somewhat of a geeky, techie expert. I can draw up a detailed process map and talk about how one step touches another and another and another, and how the tool will spew out the intended output. I’ll talk about the tool in a methodical and mechanical way, but I’m lost in explaining the inner workings of common everyday things like the internal combustion engine or a home’s simple HVAC system.
Some wives complain about their husbands taking forever to fix a broken washer or dryer or a sputtering furnace or air conditioner. That’s not me. Other guys can’t wait to tinker with an old dishwasher or a clock or even a surround sound system. That’s not me either.
Who am I?
I’m not a mechanical nut who needs to figure out how things work. I’m also not a fixer upper. I used to be embarrassed by these so-called character-flaws, but I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s okay. I’m just better suited for other things. For example, I’m better at understanding “i before e except after c;” that letting jargon slip into your language is the quickest way to lose a reader; and why a shorter sentence is always better than a longer one.
Instead of building a new engine on my weekends or fiddling with my lawn mower engine, I work to construct characters and sentences that pull the reader into a story. Instead of changing the oil, I switch out a poorly written sentence for one that has pop and meaning and jumps off the page.
Instead of hearing a rumbling engine noise and knowing exactly that the engine needs a new set of spark plugs, I listen to a piece of writing that’s bordering on being sent to the junkyard and find ways to turn it into a finely-tuned Porsche engine.
Neither is better or worse. My skillset is . . . just different.