The Size of the Problem Depends on my Perspective

Napoleon Hill, in his book Think and Grow Rich, suggests thinking oneself into the future state of affairs where one’s specific goals have already been achieved — somehow. For the sake of the visualization, “somehow” is good enough.

I’ve come to understand why, and I have four examples to drive the point home for me. Sadly, none of these is about something as impressive as curing cancer, but although these examples are mundane, they helped me understand the issue, and that makes the issue really clear to me conceptually. I’ll elaborate on two of these four examples.

Dead BMW

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This particular car used to be my daily transportation. One day, after dark, I drove it to a gated storage facility, the kind where you need a key card to get in and then the huge steel bulk of the car over some embedded magnets opens the door so as to permit exit. Large fences with sharp pikes deter other way of getting in and out. I’d planned to remove something from my storage shed, and I did.

When I got back in my car, it refused to start. This was sort of the icing on the cake because I’d been concerned about the car breaking down, though I’d feared a blow-out might be the more-likely cause — since the car was riding on tires that were, as I recall, 15 years old or so. The car had sat parked for many years while I was unable to afford the insurance, license, registration etc. And really, I still could not well afford it, but my other options had fallen apart and so this gold-colored car became the best option. So, I drove it, albeit gingerly. And it still died. Dangit.

So, here I was with a dead car, in a city where I didn’t have access to folks who could viably come and get me. More importantly, without the car, I couldn’t get out of the gated facility, unless I waited by the gate for another car to come in. And, this being a cold winter evening, I didn’t want to wait for potentially hours, or all night, outside, in the hope that someone would show up. I called every number that might remotely be helpful, including the manager’s cell phone. No answer. Finally, I decided to become a tall, blonde, female version of Jackie Chan and so I managed to clamber over the fence without impaling myself in the process. From there I walked to my cold, dark office, some miles away. I was not very happy with life right then.

The manager did call me back the next day, and explained that people were complaining about the abandoned car and it’d be nice to get it moved pronto, and no, he couldn’t help me with that. So, that made it worse.

I finally got someone to help me, and the car got towed to my office, where it sat outside for months. The car seemed to have multiple problems, not just one. These are very hard to troubleshoot because swapping out any one part won’t have any visible effect even if one just swapped out a bad part for a good one. And, as you can imagine, troubleshooting a BMW’s computerized electronic fuel injection system isn’t exactly a piece of cake. At least the car won’t have any blow-outs as it’s sitting there dead outside my office on its 15-year old tires.

A few months later, I was in Fresno, buying tools at a hardware store, and parked just outside the store was a lovely classic BMW. I went outside to admire it, and the owner showed up and we chatted. It turns out he owned a used tire store. So, I bought four good used tires for my gold car, for $100, all four. This is sort of like the Alaska purchase, a really great deal.

Last week, I needed to make a San Jose trip, and I put the car on jack stands inside my warehouse, and removed the wheels and tires, and threw them into my van and headed west. I know a vendor who swaps tires super-affordably, and even with 4 new valve stems, the price was less than $80. So, for less than $180 I had four good replacement tires.

Back at my office, I removed the main fuel pump, and tested it. It failed the test. Aha!

I paid a friend to swap out a used pump from an even-deader BMW and to install it into my dead car. He did, but the car still wouldn’t start. Today, I checked the fuel pump fuse, and indeed, that had been the problem. With both problems resolved, the car now starts and runs again, yay! I also put the four better tires back on. So, it’s a much better car now.

Look back at it, I feel a quiet satisfaction, but looking forward at the situation, that evening when the fuel pump and fuse both died, the issues seemed like a huge set of problems. And yet, making a good plan and slowly working the plan got the problems resolved. Of course. And now, looking back at it, it seems like no big deal.

Dying Van

My van is a similar story. I bought it a year ago, and it had no heater, and the transmission was failing. It didn’t have a reverse gear so I’d always have to plan my parking and driving like a chess game. Even then, there were times when I simply had to get out and push the van backwards. There were at least four times when the van almost ran over my foot; I could feel my shoe getting stuck and I wrenched it loose just in time. It wasn’t a happy situation. And, this being Northern Nevada, the lack of a heater means I was cold, often. The outside of the van looked horrible, with badly removed decals advertising previous owners’ endeavors, including dog grooming and carpet care. It wasn’t a nice van. I paid two separate shops to diagnose the transmission and in both cases the verdict was “you need to replace it.” It’s a relatively rare and weird unit, and the price would be close to a thousand dollars, which I couldn’t afford. I kept driving it, but then the transmission started failing, going forward, too. Not good. Meanwhile, the temperature gauge seemed to be lying. It was always showing the engine was cold. I had the sending unit replaced, and the problem persisted. And, the van was running roughly and getting not-great gas mileage.

Then, things changed. My brilliant assistant, Shelley, found a used transmission on Craigslist for $150. She talked the seller down to $140 and I bought it and paid a friend to swap it out. He got it all working but the van wouldn’t upshift. I messed with it until 3 in the morning and got that fixed. The seller of the transmission, it turns out, is an automotive genius, and on a subsequent visit, he charged me very little to fix the heater. He checked the fuel filter, diagnosed the temperature issue, swapped out the oxygen sensor — and he cleaned and regapped the spark plugs. I paid another friend to swap out the thermostat. The genius showed me some decal removing spray, and he used it to remove the picture of the doggie and some other decals.

So, suddenly, I have a relatively nice-looking van with a toasty-warm heater. The engine goes up to normal operating temperature, and it runs well and gets good gas mileage. The transmission shifts beautifully, including into reverse. I’ve just completed a 1200-mile road trip from Fallon to Reno to San Jose to Las Vegas to Fallon, which included driving back and forth over the Sierra Nevada mountain range in the middle of winter, while towing a tow dolly and (from San Jose to Vegas) towing a big BMW behind the van, on top of the dolly. The van behaved perfectly, and its big V8 engine used less than 3/4 of a tank to get all the way back from Vegas to Fallon … more than 400 miles. So, now I have this really nice van when previously it was horrible. And, I’m not turning cartwheels. I’m just happy, in a quiet, satisfied way. It’s a nice feeling.

Similarly, the other problems I’m facing that seem so large now, might in the same way, with good plans and good actions, become resolved.

And all in all, life is very, very good.

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A Transgender Girl, Sounding Better and Better

A transgender girl like me is basically a mix of male and female, um, parts … with the male aspects very apparent (hence the “M” on the birth certificate) and the female aspect being mainly the brain being wired as such, which is a lot more subtle.

By the time the bewildered girl figures out what she actually is, she’s learned decades’ worth of male speech patterns, and they are hard to unlearn. That’s what I’m doing. Using a camera and a microphone provide some embarrassing but helpful feedback:

Being Brave … and Reaping the Benefits

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What does being brave, and being transgender (specifically, transsexual) have to do with the car shown above? That’s what this post is about.

As to being transsexual, here is how I understand the relevant scientific conclusions:

As a fetus develops, the initial development is all based on the “X” portions of the chromosomes. For a fetus with “XX” chromosomes, this pattern continues. For a fetus with “XY” chromosomes, the “Y” chromosome is dormant initially and then activates and starts influencing things to be male-shaped. For example, the body part that in an “XX” fetus will develop into the clitoris will in an “XY” fetus develop into the penis.

In a fetus that will eventually become a transgender (specifically, transsexual) girl, there is a weird genetic condition in which the “Y” part of the “XY” chromosomal development kicks in selectively. Some parts develop as male but the brain structure develops as female.

This is hardly evident at birth, so the shape of the externally visible genitals is used to determine what gender is legally assigned, and it’s only as time passes that the girl realizes that something is wrong, and that she’s essentially a person with a female brain and a male body.

By that time, she’s typically been raised as a boy and has been expected to fit in with boy culture. She probably felt it unnatural and perhaps she tried extra hard to fit in, to hide her own discomfort (at being, quite literally, a misfit) from others, perhaps even herself. By the time she reaches adulthood, she’s probably had an insider’s exposure to guy culture such as few girls are likely to have. One of the conclusions she’s likely to draw is that guys can be pretty darn harsh. Unlike mean girls, who wrap their malice in subtlety and subterfuge, guys tend to be simply and openly mean.

* * *

Part of my attempt to fit in, in 1970s and 1980s South African guy subculture, meant learning about and working on cars. I became very skilled at it … so skilled that today, in addition to being a software engineer, I’m also an automotive engineer and I manage a small company that specializes in classic Alfa Romeos, BMWs and Mercedes-Benz vehicles. And, yes, I do much of the technical work, in each of these two companies.

The automotive work involves interacting with others in online forums, so as to get and offer technical advice or explore commercial opportunities. And, these forums tend to be 99% guy culture, and pretty darn candid as such.

When I interact on these forums, I tend not to hide that I’m a transgender girl nor do I tend to run it up the flagpole. I tend to focus on the subject matter instead.

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On a forum that’s focused on the car shown above, I mentioned that the car is for sale. I also mentioned that I ended up owning the car due to being a blonde with poor impulse control. Someone asked for pictures.

“Whoa,” I thought. A classic way that transgender girls get themselves into trouble is to try to pretend they’re a genetically integrated (non-transgender) girl to an audience for whom the issue is material. Things go off the rails when someone thinks the girl looks pretty darn hot, then finds out she’s transgender and gets enmeshed in homophobia, with the flawed and messy premises of “that’s really guy” and “so I must be gay” and “that makes me a bad person.” Better to be up front about it, I think. That’s the approach I take, but it’s not always easy. It’s scary to me, the idea of telling a potentially hostile group of guys that I’m a transgender girl and before they ask for pictures they might wanna make sure they know what they’re asking for.

Anyway, I proceeded to be open about the issue even though I wasn’t comfortable about it.

It turns out that I’d misread the requester’s intent because he was interested in pictures of the car, not me. Darn it. But, by then, the cat was out of the bag, and my post drew attention.

A moderator pointed out that I had a great sense of humor, and that I WAS kidding, right, hint, nudge, hint … yes? No, I replied. Sadly, I hadn’t been kidding.

And then, the nicest thing happened. The person realized that I wasn’t trying to generate drama, but just to be honest and open, and he became very nice and sympathetic, and offered to exercise his moderators’ privileges to make the dialog disappear, if I wanted to. I thought about it, and decided that it’s actually better if the earnest and open discussion were available to people so that they can get used to the idea that transgender girls are part of the planet and they might also be part of an automotive forum. It’s sort of like what black people went through fifty years ago. The first black member of any association probably had to deal with similar issues until eventually the people came to realize that a dark skin and different style hair mean nothing as to the content of the person’s character, ideas, etc.

In addition, the moderator offered to be a sort of online security guard for me in case someone were to hassle me. So, the experience actually ended up being super-nice … and I never did need to ask for help. There was no hostile action.

There were, however, some forum posts from people who pointed out that my openness was exemplary and that I had made a good impression with that. One person mentioned that anyone considering my car for purchase would probably be more enthused to buy it since I’d shown myself to be basically honest, and that includes information about the car’s strengths and weaknesses.

The experience reminded me that being brave isn’t about being fearless, but is about being scared (from wary to terrified and all the shades in between) and still doing what makes sense, even so.

The benefits are, as history suggests, worth it.