Sunday, May 10, 2009

Don't Stop Believing

Last fall, I failed. I failed completely and it cost me a LOT of time and some money. Hours and hours of time and a few hundred dollars.
That was the cheap cost of failure. This failure was so unexpected that I went through all of the stages, or most of them. Denial, Rage, Acceptance, and Defeat.
As I continue to deal with that failure, I have been trying to learn from it. I am not used to it so it has been hard to be positive about it.
My failure was in making a batch of biodiesel. A hobby that typically saves me a couple of thousand dollars each year. Rather, the failure wasn’t in making the fuel, but in making sludge. I didn’t intend to make sludge. I filled my processor with sludge the consistency of thick pudding. Color of chocolate. Chocolate pudding.
As I look back on my failure, it was interesting that I had no fear of failure. I had been successful in making fuel nearly a hundred times. I had started taking everything for granted. I knew what I was doing. I knew each step, I knew what the material looked like at each step, I knew what to expect. (As I watched “Meet the Robinsons” with Kat this morning, I agreed wholeheartedly with the line, you learn from failure – success, not so much) When my mix turned to sludge, I started with denial. That lasted a while, about a week. I went over all of my steps in my head. Where had I gone wrong? What did I do? In the end, the only thing I could think of was the vegetable oil was from a new source that I had never tried before and it was bad contaminated oil. I had to assume that was the problem because I couldn’t think of anything else. I wasn’t 100% sure as the oil was mostly used and I couldn’t isolate the oil and get rid of it.
Then came rage. The rage really hit when I had to shovel out the pudding from my processor. That was hard enough to work with but then I had to disassemble all of the hoses, pumps, valves and tubes and clean them out. These are all parts that are sealed together so that they won’t leak. Sealing everything does not lend itself to taking it apart. Yeah, I raged all right.
And still, I wondered, did I miss something? Did I have bad oil or did I do something else? In my mind, I accepted it. That had to be it.
The weather turned cold not long after this event, so I wasn’t able to make fuel anyway, it was too cold. All winter long, I collected oil. Jill, who NEVER STOPPED BELIEVING IN ME, (definition of AWESOME wife) encouraged me to keep collecting lots of oil because we would need it come spring. I could make fuel again when it is warmer.
By the time Lent came around, doubt and fear had settled in. I never talked about it, I always carried a positive attitude. (but inside, I knew that I didn’t know for sure what had gone wrong) During Lent, I collected a couple hundred gallons of oil.
The weather in Iowa finally warmed up and I kept hearing of others running their cars on home brew. I on the other hand kept myself busy enough that I ‘couldn’t find the time’. About that time I finally admitted to myself that I was afraid to try. WHAT IF? I was afraid to fill up the processor and make pudding. I was afraid that I didn’t really know what went wrong. I didn’t really know if it was the oil, maybe it was me?
Eventually, I finally worked up the courage to tell Jill what my problem was. I was afraid. She is my best friend. I can tell her everything, can’t I?
She once again demonstrated that she is my best friend. “Kevin, you have made fuel a hundred times. You have been successful for years. Don’t focus on one disaster, focus on your track record. You have made a TON of fuel. Make sure your equipment is clean, use the new oil from Lent and believe in yourself. You really know how to do this, just go and make it.”
So I put one foot in front of the other, so to speak. I got all of the ingredients together to make a test batch (something I should have done last fall) and had everything in place. All that was left was to make test fuel. I still was afraid it wouldn’t work, but I had no more excuses.
Last night I made a one quart test batch. The process is such that you mix it up and have to wait about 8 hours to see if it is working. I found myself not sleeping last night. I was so worked up, wondering if I was making pudding or fuel.
But the important thing is that I did it. I faced my fear and did what I was afraid of doing. To borrow a line from the Robinsons, keep moving forward. I cannot stop with one failure, I have to keep trying.


Jenny said...

Keep moving forward!

The Microblogologist said...

This is a great post! You should make a batch and take pics of the different stages so you can write a post about the process, I think it would be interesting. Did the test batch turn out? Too bad I'm not in with the lipid crowd otherwise I coulda tried to pull strings to get the oil tested for you.

Your wife totally rocks, you two are both very lucky to have each other and those kids are so fortunate to have you two as parents!

surprised mom said...

Moving forward and trying again is sometimes the hardest thing to do. Good for you you did try again. Failure is hard to overcome. Your wife sounds absolutely wonderful. It sounds like you have a great family.