CO2 cars, sanding, and long-term goals

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“Ms. Gilbert, is this good enough?” She asks me, hand outstretched gripping her semester-long class project. The piece of wood – shaped into a car body – is mostly smooth, but there’s still a few band saw cut lines visible, and I smile before responding.

“You’re getting there, keep sanding.”

“But I’ve done all I can! I’ve been sanding forever! It’s really smooth!” The piece of sandpaper in her hand has clearly been used, and I can tell she’s getting frustrated. I swivel around in my chair and pick up another student’s project from a different class. “Here, I want you to feel this.”

She runs her hand over the surface, eyes getting wider and mouth opening involuntarily as she feels the difference between the two. She asks if I made the car, and I tell her that, no, the car is not mine, but one of her peers. It is immaculately shaped and feels almost like velvet. The sanding job is impeccable, and she says nothing as she happily trots back to her desk to continue working on her own car.

I guess at this point, I should tell you that I’m a tech ed teacher (…and a former pageant queen. The two are not mutually exclusive.). In teaching tech ed, I get to teach kids how to solve problems (in my opinion, one of the most important skills to learn), develop their tenacity through challenging projects and occasional failures, and empower them to do more than they think they’re capable of by – you guessed it! – using big, bad power tools.

Our big semester-long project has been building these little Carbon Dioxide powered dragsters. The students are responsible for researching, rough sketching, final sketching, production, etc. They’re at the point in the year where summer is in sight and they’ve been working on this one project for… well, forever. They’re ready to be done, and for some of them, they’ve lost sight of the end goal.

In goal setting, we are a lot like my students. With long-term goals, it’s hard to stay focused until the very end, especially when we lose sight of why we started or what exactly it is we’re trying to accomplish.

When a goal is first set, it is easy to attack it with gazelle-like intensity. We’re motivated, excited, and able to tackle any and all obstacles that get in the way. Just like those first few bandsaw cuts, results come almost instantaneously (like dropping water weight or paying off some debt), which only adds to motivation. We get addicted to the result, and so it is easy to continue to put in the work.

Unfortunately, that last 10-20% of work before accomplishing a goal is not unlike the sanding part of the CO2 car project. It’s tedious, it takes a chunk of time, and results stop coming as quickly, causing motivation to wane. Just like my student, we begin to question if where we are at is “good enough.”

Good enough is the enemy of great. It’s the limiter to extraordinary. It is sabotaging our ability to live up to our full potential. To be the most amazing, inspiring, and powerful version of ourselves and to accomplish all that we are capable of and more, we have to get past the sanding phase.

The best way to do this is to find ways to remind ourselves that our goal is possible, and that we are capable of crushing it. When I had my student feel the other car, she realized that she, too, could have a car that felt more like velvet than wood, and she was happily back to work.

A few of my favorite ways? You can create a vision board (or Pinterest board), watch YouTube videos of other people who have done what you want to do, or find a few audiobooks or podcasts that inspire you to get. after. it. I’m a big believer in writing out your goals (daily!), and making game plans to tackle them. If you want help, shoot me an email – I’d love to help.

Just because something seems like it will take forever doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. On the contrary, it’s those goals that we put in so much work for that are the most satisfying.

Believe me: All of my kids can’t wait to race their cars… they’re just going to have to get past the sanding part first.


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