If I asked most people to name the toy trucks in the photo above, I think almost everyone would say, “they’re Tonka trucks,” but they’re not. I’ll get to the name brand in a minute.

Here’s the story

A little over a year ago, I had a lunch date with my mother. As usual, as we were leaving, she said, “I have something in the car for you.” My mother has been downsizing and going through her attic and when she finds some long-forgotten memento from my childhood she brings it to me.

This time, she handed over a well-battered plastic shopping bag with the three toy construction trucks in the picture above in it.  My wife, who is trying to get me to downsize, was unimpressed. The trucks had been well used, with the remains of 40-year-old sand in their crevices, but were in overall good shape.  She asked first, “What are you going to do with those?” and then, “Didn’t you smash your Tonka truck with a sledgehammer?”

Let me address the second question. While I actually HAD smashed my Tonka dump truck with my grandfather’s sledgehammer, I generally took really good care of my toys.

If like me, you were a free-range child of the 70’s, you’ll remember this ad:

My trucks in the picture above are NOT Tonka, they are Ertl.

Let me explain the apparent contradiction of a boy who smashes his trucks with a sledgehammer and the boy who kept his trucks in good shape.  It confused my wife, but I now know what was going on.

I’m a “tester.” I don’t know if that’s an officially identified psychologically tested personality trait, but it’s what I have labeled that part of my “me.”  I didn’t smash my Tonka because I was destructive, I wanted to test the claim that I saw on Saturday morning TV. I actually expected my Tonka truck to hold up. Since I didn’t have access to an elephant, a sledgehammer must have seemed like a pretty good substitute.

And here’s the point. By explaining the contradiction to my wife I realized that I am constantly “testing.” When people share their ideas and projects with me I instinctively ask questions that might look like I’m disagreeing.  It’s not to be negative, my intent is to help strengthen their position or process, the problem is I often haven’t take the time to explain why and what I’m doing. I now see how frustrating that can be, especially if you don’t want that type of feedback.

So now, when I feel myself slipping into test mode, I ask for permission to help “test that out.” At least I try.

Regular self-reflection and inspection are important. We can make our futures better by examining our pasts, but we have to make examining our methods and behaviors a priority and we must try to recognize how we impact others.  We need to “test” ourselves, so we can improve ourselves, so we can improve our lives and relationships.  So we can do better work, whatever that work may be.

But let’s skip the sledgehammer.


This post originally appeared on LinkedIn on September 11, 2016

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