There are certain things I'm just not good at.
For instance, I'm not very good at household repairs, knitting, or interpreting the meaning of a movie like Citizen Kane. So, when it comes to these things, I let the professionals do their job and I simply admire their work.
But sometimes, we have to do things in life that aren't part of our skill set. And when that happens, it's important to find a way to make the experience more enjoyable... or at least bearable.
When my son was in Cub Scouts, he participated for five years in the Pinewood Derby. If you're not familiar, the Pinewood Derby is a competition where little boys who are too young to use knives or saws are given a block of wood so that their parents can carve a race car to compete against the other parents' cars. And make no mistake about it, this is a highly competitive event. There are websites where people charge lots of money to sell you the "secret" of a winning Pinewood Derby car.
I loathe the Pinewood Derby because it requires a skill that I simply don't posses: craftsmanship. I am not handy with a knife, a saw, or anything more complicated than a hammer and nail. And yet, my son came to me every year wanting me to build him a fast car.
To make a long and painful story short, I never mastered the skill of making a fast car. In the first two races, my son's car (and by that, I mean my car) finished last and next-to-last. He was not at all encouraged after the second year's race, when I told him, "Hey, we did better than last year."
But when the third year of competition came along, I decided to change the way we approached the process. We agreed to forego speed for style. In other words, our goal became winning the Design Award instead of the Speed Award.
You see, the problem for me was that I disliked the process of building a fast car because I wasn't good at it. The whole experience became one design mistake after another. Each car was a disastrous mess of chipped corners, broken axels, and glue.
When we went for style, however, I got a second wind. I was able to tap into my humor skills to come up with a funny, creative design that required very little craftsmanship. As long as our design resembled a solid block of wood, we were good to go.
The first design was an ice cream sandwich. And this car looked exactly like an ice cream sandwich. We even delivered it to the event in an ice cream sandwich box. Our car was the talk of the event.
The second design was a well-known candy bar. I won't mention the name, but it rhymes with "pickers." And once again, the car looked exactly like a candy bar.
Unfortunately, we never won the Style Award. The first year, they forgot to give the style award and the second year, we got beat by a car created by someone with exquisite carving skills.
So, what's the lesson?
There are many experiences in our work and personal life that are boring, mundane, or even stressful. We often feel that we have no options but to endure them or avoid them. My Pinewood Derby lesson was that we can change our experience if we look for ways to change the process.
Very simply, everything we do is a process, and every process has steps. If we can break down the processes into those steps, we may find ways to make the steps more bearable, or better yet, fun.
So, when the Pinewood Derby gave me lemons, I simply made an ice cream sandwich. Or something like that.
For more by Ron Culberson, MSW, CSP, click here.
For more on happiness, click here.