How To Stress Yourself Out and Accomplish Nothing

At 10 years old, I was just like I am now, but smaller, a lot less comfortable with myself, and I didn’t have a cool hat. I was in the 5th grade, and there was a science fair coming up at school. I’d done somewhat well in the 3rd or 4th grade science fair, and I wanted to do well again.

Not built by a 10 Year Old

I was inspired by experimental aircraft with circular (annular) wings that I’d recently learned about. This gave me a grand idea that couldn’t possibly fail: I’d build an annular wing balsa model airplane (much like the one built by this older fellow on the left) and a regular winged balsa airplane, and then do a series of tests to see which one performed better.

But there might have been a few problems with this idea.

Hold your Horses there, Sonny!

The first problem was that the closest I’d come to building a successful balsa winged airplane of any sort was not exactly what you’d call air-worthy. I was an inexperienced 10 year old kid with no budget, no experience, no mentor, and no clue how to build an annular wing airplane, let alone a straight winged airplane. And now I’m going to successfully build both, and scientifically test them?

I can still vaguely remember the moment when I realized that my lack of aeronautical engineering prowess was a secondary problem. I’d waited until only about a week before the science fair to come up with this brilliant experiment! There was no way it was ever going to happen, and I gave up on myself. I’d stressed myself out and accomplished nothing.

The Secret Recipe

How could Ten Year Old Ryan have succeeded? Instead of saying to himself “I’m never going to get this done in a week! Why bother!” he should have said “I’ll never get this done in a week, but I can definitely do something like it in a week.”

Ten Year Old Ryan could have done a science fair project such as “Which paper airplane is best?” This would have involved dealing with affordable materials that are easy to build with, documentation and inspiration from library books made for 10 year old kids, and support from a parent who might have even enjoyed helping him with figuring out some testing criteria.

Then, instead of failing to even start, I’d have succeeded in at least trying. I might have lost the science fair to the kid who built a bridge with wood glue and Popsicle sticks, but that would have been okay.

Reasons to Never Try

So you’re not a 10 year old kid with his head in the clouds. You’re a grown up with dreams and aspirations. When you start looking into doing Your Important Thing, you’re going to run into dozens of reasons why you shouldn’t even try.

Maybe you want to build a recumbent bicycle. The Internet says you need a Whiz-O-Matic welder that costs hundreds of dollars, a full metal working setup, and high end materials and parts. FALSE. You don’t need those things to build a recumbent bicycle. You need those things to build a high end recumbent bicycle. I built a recumbent bicycle using a homemade welder and Harbor Freight everything else. It wasn’t perfect but it worked and I loved riding it.

Perhaps you’d like to learn ham radio. If you ask opinions or read online, you’ll find some who say you need to take classes and spend at least several hundred dollars to get on the air. FALSE. Information is freely available to help you learn, and equipment has never been less expensive, especially if you set your sights on the low powered QRP gear. “QRP is a waste of time!” some say. “You need {favored antenna} at least 30 feet off the ground to make any contacts. FALSE. You need patience with lesser equipment, but it doesn’t put you out of the game. It puts you in a different game, and it’s one I enjoy quite a bit.

Don’t let Perfection get in the way of Progress

Ten Year Old Ryan’s dismal failure was all in his head. A 5th grade science fair doesn’t require engineering skills. It requires following a basic procedure with a fun experiment, and nothing more. And that’s the reason I’m writing this: Your Grand Idea doesn’t need to be perfect to succeed. If you strive for perfection, you’ll never get anything done.

Instead, strive for something that is attainable, and don’t waste your time trying to be perfect. If your Big Idea is to make a Thing, and your first Thing is ugly but kind of works, then stop working on the Thing. Now go work on Thing 2.0. Then Thing 3.0 and so on. Eventually you’ll have accomplished your Big Idea. You succeeded!

Then again, you might fail miserably. You might embarrass yourself and have to start all over. But if you learned something from it then it’s not a failure- it’s just a different kind of success, and a step in the right direction.

So go, get to it. Even if you can’t do your Big Idea, do some version of it. Don’t listen to the negative voices. Just get started. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish!

2 comments

    • -neil- on March 8, 2019 at 1:57 PM
    • Reply

    Ham radio? You need a license to transmit, not to listen. Get a transceiver that you think you’d love to operate with when you get your license. When your station is set up and running, there’ll be a lot to listen to. Besides, a good Ham has the characteristic of doing a high ratio of listening-to-transmitting. If you’re not licensed yet, you should emulate that.

    Like Ryan says,”You need patience with lesser equipment, but it doesn’t put you out of the game. It puts you in a different game, and it’s one I enjoy quite a bit.”

    The “different game” can be receiving only, to begin with. Then, when you finally get your license, you’ll have a radio that you’re familiar with and ready to QSO.

    They insist on including “band edges” on Ham tests. Like, “What are the band edges of General-Phone on 80 Meters?” I hate that kind of question, because it asks for rote memorization. It doesn’t prepare one for responsible operating, because if you were going to transmit, you’d take out your chart that shows the frequency privileges for each class of license, and with repetition, many operating sessions, you’d memorize the frequencies. Memorization of where you’re allowed to transmit before you even get the license isn’t necessarily necessary. Since I got my license, they introduced the WARC bands, then and a couple more in the Lowfer frequencies. I’m still trying to memorize them. But if I were sitting in front of a Ham station, I’d take out the frequency chart to make sure I stay inside the Ham bands. I never had to memorize the WARC frequencies for a test, and it doesn’t diminish me as an operator that I haven’t memorized them yet, because there’s no rule that says you can’t look at a chart before you transmit. Y’know what I mean?

    But!, if you, the unlicensed neophyte, have a transceiver and you’re tuning and listening all the time, while you’re looking at the damned chart, you can’t help but memorize the band limits before too long. It’s an example of how starting your “operating” even before getting a license makes passing the first test much easier.

    What about getting a little transceiver and running a wire out the backside of the radio, out the window, and up to the tree over there? If that’s easy in your situation, then go for it! (That would officially be called an “End Fed Random-Length Wire.” And don’t forget to read a little on “lightning protection.” I can tell you now that the first antenna-upgrade is to replace that wire with coax, run the coax from the backside of the radio up the tree, and then unfurl a dipole, inverted V, off-center-fed wire, ground-plane, or whatever, from the tree-end of the coax. That, 5 watts, and CW will get you to France, Brazil, and even New Jersey. If you try phone, you’ll only get as far as New Jersey. And no one wants to get to New Jersey.

    From what I understand, if you run digital, 5 watts and a wire is enough to get you full around the world.

    Just where is “around the world?” you might ask.

    According to antipodesmap.com, a few hundred miles west of Perth, Australia, in the water, with the sharks, is as far as far as my signal could go before it starts coming back around the other side of the globe. If my signal goes any farther, it’s not as far, anymore.

    If reaching the exact other side of the globe isn’t far enough for you, you can try moonbounce, which will add a half a million miles to the path. But probably not with 5 watts.

    When I was in the game with a smaller station, my strategy was to use CW instead of phone, because it goes farther. Today, I’d try to get Digital going, because it goes even farther than CW. Hook your computer up to your radio, tune the bands, get familiar with tuning in digital signals and other assorted operating procedures, and when the FCC’s database indicates you’re the newest Ham, you’ll be ready to join in.

    • Ed KC8SBV on March 8, 2019 at 2:56 PM
    • Reply

    Love it Ryan!! Im using LTSpice to compare IF amps and reading everything i can. I got to make my own! No perfection allowed!!

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