The struggle is worth it.

I wasn’t always a gearhead. In fact, I didn’t do anything other than change oil on my cars until I was grown and married. I had always wanted to though.

One day, when YouTube was still young and there wasn’t a detailed tutorial with links to the Amazon shopping list in the description for every mundane little job you could possibly need to do on even obscure vehicles, I went out to my parking spot in my apartment complex to change the headlight bulb on my wife’s Mazda Protégé5.

After taking apart a lot more than I should have and struggling for two hours to put it back together, I was hooked. It’s a very rare exception when I’ve taken my cars to anybody for work since then. Transmissions, head gaskets, timing belts, and more.

I’ve learned a lot from being a gearhead over the last eleven years, (that’s about when I went out to change that headlight), and it’s shaped me in more ways than I can count. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned that I take into my everyday life.

1. Dive in.

When I was in college, my wife and I were dead broke when our minivan blew a head gasket. The money was not in the budget to take it to a mechanic, but I scraped together enough for a complete gasket set and getting the heads milled flat.

I watched a few videos, made a few notes, and dove right in. This skill, honed as a gearhead, on cheap cars, has served me well when the stakes are higher. When confronted with a problem, a skeleton of a plan, and a lot of elbow grease, goes a long way.

The more I plan, the more I’m married to it. Great when you know what you’re doing, terrible when you don’t.

Dive in on a new challenge.

2. Ask for help.

The head gasket replacement was going great, but I got to a point where I could not get any farther because the exhaust manifold just would not clear the studs and come off. Thankfully, I found a friend willing to help.

People have a lot of respect for initiative and willingness to learn (and a genuine and humble request for help). I’ve learned a lot by asking for help. It’s my go-to tool when I’ve discovered I dove in too deep.

I know engineers are supposed to know it all, but I’ve found that swallowing my pride and asking for help has taken my career (and cars) much farther than I could have gone alone.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

3. Disassemble.

I’m still learning this one.

I can’t say how many times I’ve spent hours trying to figure out how to get something out of an engine bay only to finally give in and remove that next piece over, like the airbox or alternator, and have the job done thirty minutes later.

When I’m stumped with a problem, it’s time to take it further apart. I find I use this most with my emotions. If I’m angry or upset and can’t seem to put it behind me, it’s time to disassemble and start reflecting why I feel that way. More often than not, it’s not long before I’m under control and my irrational feelings are gone again.

Don’t be afraid to disassemble a situation to get the job done.

4. Get into the details.

Sometimes I’ll hit a point in the beginning or middle of a big project where I get stuck in a loop. The loop usually involves countless rounds of writing and deleting emails (not sending), or revisiting the same three or four tasks in sequence without actually accomplishing anything in them.

When I catch myself in the loop, I know it’s because I’m lost at 30,000 feet and it’s time to land. Gearhead knowledge to the rescue, get into the details. Find a task and dive in deep. Don’t change gears.

I get in this loop sometimes working on cars, and I get out of it by dissecting the job at hand. Why can’t I make progress? Am I missing parts? Waiting for glue to dry? Stressed out by the mid-project clutter? Identifying the detailed reason let’s you break the loop and move on.

Get into the details and out of the loop. Take the reins and put your gearhead experience to use.

[ Note: We’re going to start running articles where gearheads like us share stories about how playing with cars has made us better people. If being a gearhead has made a difference in your life and you’ve got a story to share, get in touch. We’d love to talk to you. -bd ]

What’s your favorite piece of gearhead wisdom?

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