When I was in High School I was a super cool guy because I was on the robotics team. While we can debate the truth of this statement, let’s just defer to your old pop and agree that the robotics team was cool (it was not). While I didn’t take too much away from it (for a number of uninteresting reasons), one maxim always remained in my head after building robots with my teacher: measure twice, cut once.
My coach literally made us measure things twice, in front of him, before we did anything. At the time, this felt like a huge burden because measuring tape is not fun. You know what’s fun? Saws. I joined the robotics team because I wanted to cut stuff, wire stuff, and stack PVC pipe rings on a stick. That’s what all the cool kids did. However, as I grew older, I slowly began to realize how meaningful the maxim is, not just in robotics, but in life in general.
To fully understand the power of it, you need to realize that every step in the three-step process is important: measure, measure, cut.
You need to measure at least once. Unless you’re some sort of woodworking savant, it’s usually a good idea to measure out pieces of wood before you cut them. It’s also a good idea to prepare at least on a cursory level. What length should this wood be? What can I do to become an engineer?
Measuring out length is very similar to making a step-by-step plan. In both measuring and planning you should know exactly what the end goal is–either a 3 foot cut, or a 3-year graduate degree. In both, you should know how to achieve that goal–either turning on the saw or sending in an application.
The first measurement is largely the how measurement. How do I keep this chair from falling over? A 3-foot leg. How do I keep myself occupied in 40 years? A 3-year graduate-level degree. Whatever it is you’re trying to achieve, keep this first “measurement” step in mind. You don’t wake up one morning and start cutting wood to make a chair, and you don’t wake up one morning and walk into Boeing and start making an airplane. Measure. Plan. Contemplate.
If the first measurement is the how step, the second measurement is the why step. After one measurement, you know that you need a 3-foot piece of wood for the leg of a chair. Now, you measure again, and ask yourself why you need this leg. It’s so the chair won’t fall over. Double-check your first measurement…3 feet exactly. Done, move on.
But it’s not always that simple, particularly where woodworking isn’t involved. Why do you want to be an engineer? Do you just want to make money, or do you really love engineering? This is most common in high-burnout professions like lawyers. Most lawyers want to do their job for the money, but hate the actual work. If you just want money, try to find a way to achieve that goal (whether wanting money is a good goal or not is another discussion) that you actually enjoy. Measure your how with why, and decide if you really need to cut at all. You might be able to make a three-legged stool, and you might be able to make money engaging in your hobby. You need to check yourself and your plans.
This step is the most annoying step, but probably the most important. I already measured, why not just do the first step slowly and carefully to ensure it’s correct? There’s something about starting all over from the beginning and doing the same measurement/plan twice. Sometimes you realize that you really need an extra 1/4 of an inch to account for the lip on the chair, or you need an entrance exam that you should plan for first before you even think about applications. If you don’t measure twice, you’ll wind up a fourth of an inch short or $50 out on an application fee that is doomed for rejection. Check yourself before you wreck yourself.
Measuring is important, but if you just measure pieces of wood all day people in white coats will take you away. Cut, man! That’s why you measure! Dream, but don’t sleep–plan, but don’t forget to act. The actual cutting process is what gives you the leg on that chair or graduation. The cut is what makes your measuring worth it, and the measuring makes the cutting worth it.
When you cut, cut with passion and gusto. You’ve measured once and re-checked the measurement, so commit! There are few things worse than planning for success but never starting to cut the pieces for your success. Act, and act knowing you’ve put in the adequate amount of preparation. This is the key to fulfillment and happiness, in both woodworking and obstacles in life.
If you fail to prepare, you’ve prepared to fail. Don’t fall into this trap: measure, measure, cut.