Balance. Purpose. Enlightenment.

When You Think You Know It All

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is the noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”   Confucius

The author at work on a motorcycle

When I got a chance to work in an automotive shop, I jumped at it. This was always one of my deepest interests, having worked on cars and motorcycles since I was teenager. I was rather full of myself, thinking I pretty much knew all there was to know about being a mechanic.

Then I met James, who worked at the shop and had been a mechanic for many years. We were about the same age and struck up a friendship right away. He didn’t say much, but when he did talk he had my attention.

I was given a set of carburetors to rebuild as one of my first jobs. I had done this many times before and quickly got the job done. However, the car wouldn’t start after I installed them. I tried everything I could think of without success and left them for the night at closing time. James came over and asked me what was wrong. I told him what I had done and said I would tackle it again next morning.

When I came in the next day, the car was running with James standing by it! He had stayed after I left and worked it out on his own. He found that the vent pipes on the carb were plugged with bugs and dirt that you couldn’t see from the outside. He blew the pipes out with air and it worked fine.

Chagrined, I told him it wasn’t obvious that they were plugged when I rebuilt them. He agreed, but pointed out that he knew the car had been parked outside for a long time before it was towed in. Since the vents were plugged, gas was unable to flow. I was upset, feeling I’d been shown up and hadn’t thought to ask about the background of the car before I worked on it.

James didn’t belittle me, even though I probably deserved it. His practical approach was that if you really understood how something worked, you could fix it. I had a knowledge of mechanics but not many years of gaining wisdom in applying it. Just watching James work was a lesson in patience, efficiency and persistence. My belief that I already knew all this stuff was slowly whittled away over the three years I worked there.

I lost touch with James as I went on to other endeavors, but we got together recently to swap a car and a motorcycle. I’d always regretted that I hadn’t thanked James for his help to me, so I got my courage up, apologized for having been such a know-it-all when we worked together, and thanked him for mentoring me. He laughed and told me that at least, I wanted to learn how to do things right and actually listened to what he said. And he assured me he had gone through the know-it-all stage when he first started, as well!


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