Read the Fine Print

img_1817Check the return policy. Proofread your writing. Read the instructions. Ask about asbestos. We know we should do these things, but we’re in a hurry. We’ve done this before, we know how things work. The world shouldn’t be a constantly surprising us, should it? All things I have had to learn from the experience of screwing up.

Accepting the newest upgrade for my phone or computer, I’m presented with a long list of terms and conditions, but I admit, I rarely even scroll through the text before I click accept. I haven’t just donated my kidneys to orphans half-way around the world, but now I’m wondering why so many of the applications look different.

Biting into the round milk chocolate candy I’ve selected from the box, I realize this is the flavor I don’t like. The lid has a map of the contents showing all the flavors and fillings, but I blithely ignored it in my haste.

Pulling out of the rental lot at 9pm, I’m thinking about what road to take to the hotel. Once on the highway, I notice I can’t see the dashboard very well, so I fumble around for the lights to adjust the display level, turning on the windshield wipers instead. Driving past street lights, I understand why other cars are honking at me – my lights aren’t even on.

Preparing a crabmeat casserole, I’ve managed a decent white sauce, picked carefully through the crabmeat, and layered the ingredients into the pan. Next step in the recipe: “refrigerate for 8 hours before baking.” I guess we’re having something else for dinner tonight.

Our first home was small, built in the 30’s, and had a garage – we were thrilled. During the pre-purchase inspection, every system and appliance was described as having “reached its design life”, but we didn’t fully appreciate it until winter. One morning we woke to a cold house. When the technician arrived, he took one look at our furnace and said he couldn’t touch it because it was encased in asbestos. Imagine my surprise! I guess I thought that it was normal for an oil-fueled furnace to look like a squat white refrigerator. The asbestos-removal project that followed seemed to go on forever, while we dashed between one room warmed with a space heater, and the bathroom, bedroom, and kitchen.

The most vivid learning experiences I’ve had are when something went wrong – while being inconvenient, expensive, dangerous or embarrassing. In that emotional moment I’m mad, frustrated, and feel a fool. Vowing to never make that mistake again – and usually I don’t. New mistakes crop up, and I find them every time.

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