I never was one for new year resolutions. They always feel trite and insincere. If something is worth doing, then you don’t need to wait for a special day to do it. The false attraction of new year resolutions is that no one expects anyone to fulfill them, so it’s not an embarrassment when we fail. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. How this relates to off grid amateur radio is that if 2017 did not bring any progress towards your off grid goals, then now is the time to take a short moment to collect yourself and push forward.
I am loathe to call this a “new year resolution” for the reasons I just mentioned, yet since we are at an annual moment when many of us are motivated and thinking about renewal, it seems like as good a time as any to talk about goals. But let there be no excuses or weak explain-aways…the ideas in this article would be just as relevant in April or August or October.
Off Grid Ham has two primary goals: 1) To show radio amateurs of all experience levels that off grid energy is possible, practical, and affordable, and 2) to promote amateur radio in general as a fun and useful avocation. If you have attained your off grid capabilities and/or radio operating goals in the last year, then good deal! I’m genuinely happy for you.
If you have not advanced as much as you should or could have, then ask yourself why you missed your goals and be honest with your answers. This is not a contest and there is no finish line. There is no need to guilt-trip yourself or feel like you have something to prove. Here are some of the common barriers and my suggestions for addressing them:
You didn’t have enough time: I get it that a majority of Off Grid Ham readers have families and jobs and other important priorities. Life is crowded! There’s barely enough time to do what you have to do, much less dabble in hobbies. Off grid amateur radio does not have to be a solo mission. It’s very family-friendly, so why not get everyone involved? This form of multitasking is a win-win: You spend quality time with people you care about (which you were going to do anyway) while also advancing your skills. The kids do not need to know that participating in this wholesome and educational activity is as much for your benefit as it is for theirs. Keep in mind too that alternative energy/radio is great fodder for scouting or school science projects; there is no reason you can’t ride the kids’ coattails as they learn.
You don’t have enough money: This too is a totally understandable situation. I like to describe the cost expectations of off grid ham radio in fishing terms: Some people have a $30,000 boat loaded with all the goodies and a $60,000 truck to tow it, and some people have only a $25.00 Walmart rod & reel with a basic tackle box. Most of us fall somewhere between these points.
The key element of the analogy is that the guy with the big dollar watercraft-plus-truck is not necessarily having more fun, nor is he necessarily catching more fish. For that matter, he might not even be very good at fishing. It’s possible that the dude with the $25.00 Walmart special is a better fisherman because he has less to work with…he’s forced to hustle and make the best of it.
Having all the expensive cool stuff gives one a technical advantage and expands capabilities, but a dearth of funds should not keep anyone out of the club. I personally know amateurs who have nothing more than an inexpensive imported handheld VHF/UHF radio and a five or ten watt solar panel. The whole setup costs about fifty bucks. It’s not fancy, and there are a lot of limitations, but their radio equivalent of the Walmart rod & reel gets them off the grid and on the air. They enjoy themselves and have plenty of success.
Off Grid Ham has several DIY projects that can be completed on small budgets; YouTube is a great resource too. Work with what you have and don’t fuss over what you can’t have, or whatever others are using.
You have an attitude problem: This deficiency may be the hardest to admit. Do you feel burned out, disinterested? Maybe work or family pressures effect your zeal for reaching your amateur radio goals? Mental health experts almost universally agree that participating in fun and interesting pastimes & hobbies helps improve attitude and outlook, so it’s possible that your lack of participation in things you enjoy is dragging you down in other areas of your life. I’m not a trained counseling professional so I’m not going to drift too far into the weeds on this one, but I can say from personal experience that amateur radio has been an uplifting escape at times when not much else was going well for me.
Other people have an attitude problem: A common complaint among new hams (and even a few older ones) is that more senior hams are protective of what they perceive as their “turf”. This can manifest itself in the form of being snubbed on local repeaters & nets, being condescended to when interacting with other hams, clubs being no more than arrogant cliques, and many more ungentlemanly behaviors that send the signal that outsiders are not welcome. Purposely blocking the path of new amateurs who want to achieve their goals is no way to grow a hobby.
You can’t control everyone else, but you can control yourself. Try showing up in person to a club meeting instead of being some anonymous voice on the radio. Volunteer to help an elderly ham who might need help with putting up an antenna. When you attend a hamfest, go out of your way to socialize and partake in some friendly banter. The more human you appear, the more likely it is the barriers will dissolve. And don’t forget that it’s a two way street. You can’t expect a group to accept you if you are unwilling to contribute anything yourself. Be the positive example you wish to see in others.
Lastly, do a little self examination to determine if it’s possible that your demeanor is chasing others away. I recently had an animated back and forth with a reader who left very lengthy criticisms in the open comments section after one of my articles stating that amateur radio was snobby and elitist and did not make new hams feel welcome. While I conceded that his observations were not completely baseless, he did take it to an undeserved and uncalled for extreme. He just oozed with negativity and a crap attitude. After allowing him generous uncensored space (on my own website!) to insult me and my favorite hobby, he would not let it go. I finally had enough of it and cut him off.
The take away here is simple: If it seems like everyone else a jerk, then maybe, just maybe, the problem isn’t everyone else. Ninety-five percent of radio amateurs are open, friendly folk who sincerely want to help you succeed in the hobby. Don’t hang out with the other 5%, and certainly don’t become one of them yourself.
What you need to know.
Setting goals is a way to manage expectations and avoid aimless wandering with no particular plan or purpose. If you have made progress over the last year, then accept my congratulations and keep going. If you have not done as well as you know you could have, take heart. Another year is another chance. Find a way around the roadblocks and give it another go.
What is your experience in achieving (or not achieving) your off grid amateur radio goals? What advice do you have; what have you learned? Let me know in the comment section below.