Progressing Through Life

I’ve been watching some videos on Youtube by railway modellers; for a brief period in my childhood I had the beginnings of a model railway and I’m interested in starting up again. I also watch some videos on what could be termed the topic of self-help. It struck me just now when the host of one particular model railway podcast came out with an all important life lesson; something I wouldn’t have expected to learn from a video on model railwaying (although I am learned a lot more about people from these). The all important life lesson was basically this…

Ken Patterson, the host, worked for a time in a hobby shop (you can hear the tale at 15:52 of the video below) and customers would come in and ask his advice on developing their hobby. He would then suggest products based on his knowledge and experience, admitting now that he has a know-it-all-attitude, but his boss overheard him on one occasion and afterwards took him aside and explained to him how instead he considers each customer’s current position and makes suggestions that take them a step up from where they’re currently at, rather than showing them the most advanced product or explaining an advanced technique that’s so far ahead of them it simply baffles them.

I considered how we all might, in our various positions in life, find ourselves giving advice on different things, from personal life, developing a hobby we have experience with, to fixing something.

In my case an example that comes to mind is that I’m in a computer business and I often show clients how to do something. I noticed recently how I get a little frustrated in some situations where I’m asked to explain something and in one recent case I got quite short with a client who didn’t know something that was quite fundamental and basic, and I really didn’t want to be giving that lesson again – they’re are only so many times in life you can bring yourself to show someone how to copy and paste, even if it’s not the same person every time, it feels like it is. How do actual teachers do it!?

Often I need to explain what went wrong with someone’s computer or how to do something, and I know that they’re unlikely to understand what I mean, because, as I now appreciate more, they’re a few too many steps down on that ladder of understanding. I’m often praised for my patience or thanked for explaining something clearly, but I can now consciously consider how to bring someone up just one step at a time from where they’re currently at, even if it doesn’t get them to where they want/need to be right now.

Sometimes I just want to say that there is no point in me explaining something because they’re just not going to get it and they’re not interested in learning the complete process, or in paying me for the time involved in teaching them; how do you even say that in a non-condescending way!? A lot of people will write down each of the steps as I explain it and just want to follow that through each time, without actually learning what each step means. Sure, this can work, but I generally expect something to change along the way, or them to do something slightly wrong somewhere and make the whole process obsolete; if they’d actually learn the process one step at a time, then they could most likely figure their way out.

This is kind of like when I started to teaching myself to play the guitar; I just wanted to play and had no patience for learning properly. This in hindsight has scuppered my chances of progressing to where I wanted to be all those years ago when I started.

I can remember when I was at college and learning about computers and in particular I wanted to learn about programming but any books I read were too many steps up the ladder of my understanding; it was like the authors assumed a whole bunch of stuff about what I knew already, and nowhere were these assumptions listed, and I got frustrated because I didn’t know what I needed to know in order to get to where I wanted to be.

It takes an observant teacher and a mindful person to help someone else along a path they themselves have already trodden; perhaps it is more challenging to figure something out for ourselves.

As for life lessons, some things I read or watch are not relevant to my current situation. Sometimes we try and tell someone what they need to do to sort out a situation but even if they accept what you tell them they might not be ready to put it into practice. I study the Bible quite often and this in particular has, I think, many layers of meaning, so depending where you are on the ladder of understanding (for which there may be more than one ladder!) what you read can be interpreted in different ways. To say it is meaningless just means you’re not on the/a relevant ladder… or maybe with some things we delude ourselves into believing there is meaning to something when there isn’t.

Re-reading something later in life, or after you or I have figured something else out first often makes all the difference; kind of why I like to consider if I read a book first or watch the film, because one will shape my perspective on the other.

There is often more than one way up the ladder of life.

The lesson here is to consider what position in life we’re currently at and what step we or someone else needs to take in order to progress forward. But as they say (whoever they are), it’s not about the destination but the journey that gets you there.


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  1. Computers are my life. And I hate them. I’ve been working the damned things, hell, since 1986 — thirty years?
    I see that you’ve also applied your vocation in the direction of computing. A applaud you. I too spent years teaching others the ins and outs of personal computer usage. School computer rooms, family and friends, work-mates. If you’re the go-to tech guy, I can commiserate. It’s a thankless and repetitive job.
    Our days are hopefully numbered (I hope). AGI should take over yours and mine jobs… soon.
    I write code for challenged companies (the latest still uses COBOL!) and I hate it. But it pays the bills, which always need paying. And so, here we are, trapped in this world where strangely enough, model trains and fishing appeal more to us than our life’s work.
    I’ve said this for years: programming is the new (now old) salt mine. I hope you earn your peck-a-day with lessened angst.

    • Thanks for your sympathetic insight! I’ve been doing this work for 10+ years now, and while some things have changed, like the progression from desktop computers to laptops and then to tablets, and I meet some different people each month, there is that repetitive and mindless aspect, which I’m sure must exist in any job – I can indeed foresee the time when I’m made obsolete, but envisage this to be due to more throw-away and “not-worth-fixing” tech; hopefully I will have saved up enough money to retire by then. This used to be more of a hobby, but I noticed some years back a need for time-out from computers in my spare time; I never got into fishing, although any time outside is a must, which is why I like cycling to my clients… perhaps model trains will further provide me with a satisfying escape.

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