After 23 years and 180,000 miles, the water pump in Traci, my little blue Honda, decided it had had enough (P.S. … my kids named my car). Because I like working on my car, I decided to fix it myself this weekend. The only problem is, the water pump is buried deep inside the engine, requiring me to remove about 15 other parts to get the job done right.
None of those parts are particularly difficult, just time consuming… and stubborn.
For those that know cars (or for those that don’t), there’s a nasty bolt that holds on the main pulley to the crank shaft. To remove it requires three things: (1) herculean strength, (2) super strong tools, and (3) a custom-made specialty tool to hold the pulley in place as you break the bolt. Of course, I found all of this out after several hours of trying to make the wrong tools work, breaking two breaker bars and one ratchet, and making six different trips (yes… six actual distinct trips) all over town looking for the right tools and parts.
With the help of my 17-year-old son lending me his brawny back and hulking bicep, I was able to get the bolt-from-hell off and access to the overworked water pump. While in there, I replaced the timing belt, tensioner pulley, camshaft seal, and crankshaft seal.
When everything looked good, I buttoned everything back up, filled up the car with the appropriate fluids, made sure I hadn’t left any tools laying around inside the engine compartment (learned that one the hard way), and prepared to start the car. It had been 9 hours total working on the car. It was dark. My back was sore. My body was covered in grease. And I had burned 10 gallons of fuel driving all over town looking for parts and tools. I was ready to be done.
I got into the car, started it up, and, wonderfully, it purred like a content kitten. Honestly, it sounded better than it had ever sounded before… except for one thing—the steady stream of oil pouring out the bottom of the engine and all over my driveway (which I’m pretty sure it’s not supposed to do).
I immediately shut it off, closed the hood, and went into the house. I was done. I had no more emotional strength to even contemplate tearing the whole thing apart again to figure out what was wrong.
That night, I took a prescription pain pill because of my back pain, hoping to get a good, restful night sleep. Instead, I proceeded to have nightmares about my mistake. Did I put the wrong bolt in the wrong place puncturing something? Did I forget a part? Did I put a wrong part in the wrong place? I thought I did it right, but obviously I didn’t. What did I miss? I built and rebuilt the engine for eight restless hours.
The next day I had to go to work and my son was at school. Because I was still physically in pain, I was going to wait for him to help me tear it all down again when he got home. But I was impatient. I wanted the stupid thing to be done already. I had already been to the parts store that morning and picked up what I thought was the offending part—a $12 crankshaft seal. After bringing it home, I decided I was just going to take off the easy parts of the engine… the valve cover and power steering pump. After those were off, just a couple more bolts that I could get to. And after that, why not take off the tire and splash shield. And hey, I already have the proper tools to pull the bolt-from-hell again. Why wait, right?
Apparently, when you already know what you’re doing, what took me nine hours the day before can be done in just over an hour, with very little pain, frustration, or extra trips around town.
The Lesson In All Of This
The first time you do anything, plan on it taking you ten times longer than expected. It takes extra time to acquire the right tools that are built for the job. It takes extra time because you’ve never done it before. You don’t know what to expect. Everything looks new and awkward and overwhelming and scary. It’s a new experience. Your brain doesn’t have any place to hang the new information yet.
But go slowly. Take your time. When you plan on it taking longer, it won’t be nearly as frustrating. It is still hard work. You still get bloody knuckles and greasy fingernails. You still wake up sore in the morning. But you have a better feel for the landscape. Now, when you have to do it again because you screwed up the first time (and yes, you will screw up the first time), it only takes you a fraction of the time to make it right. You now know what to expect. You can plan ahead more accurately and be prepared because you’ve already got a toolbox full of the right tools.
Fixing emotional stuff is the same. Getting tools and learning how to use them takes time (and lots of extra trips). Even with the right tools, it’s still hard work. It’s never convenient or easy. But it is worth it.
The work I did to my car now means that I can drive it all winter long without a single worry. I know that Traci will last another 100,000 miles as long as I do the simple maintenance things.
When you do the hard work on yourself (or your marriage, or your parenting, or your trauma recovery) you will see the benefits for years to come as well. But more so. The work you do now will benefit not just you, but your spouse, your kids, your friends, your coworkers, your dog, and future generations. The work you do now compounds, leading to a lifetime of freedom and peace.
You are worth much more than a crappy old Honda. Be kind and patient with yourself as you begin your hard work.