I started welding classes this week. Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I turned up the pressure on oxygen and acetylene tanks, cracked the acetylene on the torch, and lit it with a striker. For me, sticking my hand that close to an instrument that was about to shoot a 6000 degree Fahrenheit flame and squeezing the striker took courage. So did controlling that powerful of a fire while standing so close sparks flew at me, all lit electric green by the shade 5 glasses we’re required to wear in class. But by the end of the day, I felt surprisingly comfortable with it. I could start the fire without fear of burning myself and stand as sparks shot around me and know I wasn’t going to catch fire. I conquered my fear pretty quickly, just by making myself do it a few times. What I hadn’t conquered by the end of the day was my frustration.
Several people in the class are not new to welding. It was both inspiring and disheartening to watch them wield their torches to curl strips of steel, set straight welding beads, and generally make cool thing-a-ma-jigs while my arms ached under the weight of holding a torch, I couldn’t set a weld without burning holes in the steel…and then I accidentally cut my project in half while trying to reinforce a joint. (Which, yes, would be approximately the exact opposite of what I was trying to do.) By lunchtime it crossed my mind that maybe welding wasn’t my thing.
Like it so often does, a full belly significantly calmed me down, and I went back to class determined to keep trying. I had to buck up and remind myself that not being able to weld a perfect (or even moderately functional) welding bead on day 1 was not a sign that I couldn’t do this. It was a sign that I’d never done it before. The difference between can’t do and can do is rarely about ability. It’s almost always about perseverance.
Too often we teach children to find what they’re good at and do that, when the truth is we’re born utterly talentless. Sure there might be some genetic whatever that, given equal effort, might make you slightly more successful at x than at y. But those who persevere surpass those with “talent” who don’t apply it. How many times have you seen people give up because something is “too hard”? Sometimes it’s a lazy factor that makes them quit, but I think often it’s people have decided way too soon that they must not be good at it–because if they had a talent for it, it wouldn’t be so hard. I see this with writing all the time. Budding novelists give up because they’re embarrassed with their output and assume they can’t do better. Hey, we’re all embarrassed by our first few forays into fiction. The published ones just kept doing it anyway.
That is why, instead of teaching people to find what they’re good at, we should teach people to find what they love enough to keep working at, even if their self-perception is that they’re bad at it. Find something that is personally worth persevering for, and that continued effort over the long haul is what will transform you (or me!) from someone who cuts her project in half to someone who’s proud of her accomplishments.
My perseverance goal for the month is to not let my inner-diva win. I’m going to learn how to weld. Dammit. What about you? Anything you need moral support persevering through?
~ Featured Image: Two young women oxy welding parts of ammunition boxes in South Australia in 1943. Photographer: Smith, D. Darian