Thoughts about aircraft building and self-discovery

First, a quick update.  Still haven’t worked on the project since last time.  Still looking for a job, although I have a pretty good prospect working right now.  However, the point of this post isn’t to cover direct progress on the project; instead, I’m going to go off the normal path here and talk about some intangibles.

This whole thing started as I was replying to a discussion on the VAF forums.  A man was relating how he’d just ordered his tail kit, and it was clear he was excited about getting started on his project.  The discussion eventually turned into dispensation of advice from other builders.  Even though my building experience is miniscule at this point, I still joined in and provided some of the things that I’d dealt with working on my tail kit.

In particular, the soon-to-be builder mentioned how he wanted to try and focus on the current small part of the project, instead of thinking in terms of the project as a whole.  It’s a valid point; if all you think about every night is how much more you have to do until you have a flying aircraft, you’ll probably have some motivation issues.  I’ve personally never felt that, but I know others have.  In any case, I started typing up my reply to that effect, but as I continued to write about other obstacles I’d run into along the way, I found myself outlining some things I’d learned about myself along the way.  These were all things that I’d internalized and worked with, but something about writing them out gave me a new understanding.

The core of this involves the learning curve that is inevitable in a project like this.  I knew going in that I’d be learning a lot of new skills, but I only thought in terms of skills with my hands.  In the EAA Sportair workshop, I learned how to squeeze and buck solid rivets, how to maintain proper edge distance, how to smooth and deburr edges to promote proper fit and prevent cracks, and so on.  I’ve practiced and much improved those and other skills since I started building.  So that learning curve isn’t news to anyone…but what was unexpected, and what I only began to really understand as I wrote that reply on VAF, was that I’ve also learned things that aren’t at all confined to airplane building.

One of those things, which I’ve alluded to briefly in these writings, is my tendency to set goals that are, at best, not based in reality at all.  I’d try to convince myself that they weren’t hard goals, but just targets to shoot for, but then I’d find myself bummed out at the end of the night when I hadn’t achieved my goals.  I might go out to the garage all full of steam-tonight, surely I could get the vertical stab skinned!  By the end of the night, maybe something had gone wrong, or I’d just taken more time than I thought, and it was clear that I wasn’t going to be riveting the skin on.  So I’d end up going back into the house feeling a bit defeated, even though the goal I’d set was based on nothing more concrete than “I think I can do this”.

But the thing here is that this realization has an impact outside the garage.  In the rest of my life, I have a tendency to go into situations with some predetermined idea of how things are going to proceed and how they’ll end up.  Then, quite frequently, things don’t proceed as I expect, and I end up with feelings of disappointment and sometimes resentment.  The thing is, what I’m really resenting is usually that other people didn’t act the way I wanted them to act.  Thinking rationally, that’s a pretty stupid expectation to work off of.  People are people, independent beings who are quite obviously not going to act according to my wishes.  It’s no wonder things don’t go as I expect when everything is based off such an irrational expectation.

I can even think about how my mental process goes when I play chess, and it’s the exact same thing.  I’m not a horrible player by any means, but my hangup is yet another expression of what I’ve been talking about.  I formulate a plan: I do this, my opponent will respond as such, so then I’ll do this, and he’ll do this, etc.  It all looks so very good, except that my opponents have a bad habit of not doing what I expect them to do.  It’s almost like they’re trying to win the game too!

I suppose what this all boils down to is that this sort of outcome-based thinking is the common thread that needs to be avoided or at least controlled.  I still go out to the garage thinking “I’d like to finish XYZ tonight,”  but the subtle difference is not getting hung up on the outcome.  Achieving the goal is great, but not if it comes at the expense of cutting corners or cheating.  The key is to take pride in all the small, individual accomplishments.  Maybe I didn’t get that stab skinned, but I did get the skeleton together.  Maybe it took longer because I had to rethink some small task, or I set a couple of questionable rivets that were better off replaced.  The bottom line is that it’s all these small tasks that add up to finished components, so getting the small tasks right is more important than getting some arbitrary number of them right in an evening.

So that’s what I mean when I talk about self-discovery.  I’ve heard more than one builder comment that this is a project that will change your life.  Usually it’s couched in terms of meeting lots of new people, making new friends, and so forth.  For me, I think it’s giving me an avenue to confront and address these things about myself.  It’s not that I didn’t know about these tendencies before, but something about working on the RV has put them in a new light.  I haven’t conquered them by any means, and I may never do so, but I’m taking more steps all the time towards understanding and living with them.

Who would have thought that sheet metal work would lead to this kind of thing?

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