The building of a layout presents many challenges and mirrors the struggles you may face in real life. One key to success is in learning to cope with the frustration that will eventually pop up. It might not happen for quite a while, and you might get lulled into a false sense of invincibility, but sooner or later a difficult problem will occur. How well you handle the frustration of a problem will determine your success. Fortunate people, those that life has dealt a great hand, often never face real frustration until later in life. Gifted people don't know what is like to deal with the frustration of not being able to learn something new, or master a skill. Those of us who struggle with things often develop a great set of mental tools and techniques to face many challenges in life.
The big secret to success is in never giving up, no matter how bumpy the road! It really is that simple! Now, layout problems are never as serious as real life problems, so sticking with building a layout is much easier than handling something like an illness, loss of a job, or death of a loved-one.
Another secret for success is in knowing what you can't do well, realistically. It is never an excuse for not doing or not finishing something, but we often must face facts that our basic set of skills might not include a particular part of the hobby. So, when you meet the obstacle you can't overcome, get help. Don't give up or abandon the project, just get help with it! Ask at the hobby shops, on the Web, or other hobbyists you meet at trains meets or shows. But ask for help, don't let a project become overwhelming.
When you don't understand something, ask a question! There are people in the hobby that overcomplicate some things, but ask anyway. You don't have to be an electrical engineer to build a circuit. And you don't have to be an artist to have a good-looking layout. Be careful whose advice you take. Some people deal in the theoretical realm and never really do much. Take advice from the people who have actually done what they talk about, and their stuff actually works.
So let me use some examples. When I was building my layout, I had a problem with crashes at the grade crossing with my homemade vehicles. Someone once told me that there was a way to wire a relay so it would latch, but I felt stupid because I didn't understand it and never asked questions. I struggled for 2 years before I discovered how to wire a relay to latch, on my own. So, had I asked the questions, I would have been shown the technique and been able to turn my attention toward something else. But that was a learning experience, too. I tried other wiring techniques and learned many things while I was experimenting, and I learned a little about myself and the way my brain is wired. But I didn't give up, mainly because I couldn't. But I didn't give up. The frustration I felt was nothing new to me. I have seen so many people give up on things because it isn't easy for them. Most things in life will be 90% perspiration! Good things don't just happen, you have to make them happen! Of course, never discount the blessings that we receive.
Several years ago I was buying some electronic components in a Radio Shack store, and I couldn't find right component, so I asked 2 other shoppers for some advice. One man was well-dressed, with his wife, seemed very intelligent and was buying cell phone batteries when cell phones were rather rare. The other man was poorly dressed and seemed a little eccentric. Well, I took the advice of the well-dressed man, and discounted the advice of the other guy. Well, the well-dressed guy was very wrong and the eccentric guy was right! Fortunately someone on Fidonet helped me before I blew something up, but it was really a learning experience in more than just electronics. Aside from the obvious lesson, I learned that eccentric people are often very bright and make life interesting. When I am in a waiting room, I now gravitate to the eccentric person. Not only will the conversation be more interesting, I identify with eccentric people.
Just recently I had a problem with a new locomotive. When the loco would travel over an O27 remote control section, the headlight and cab light would blink, but the loco didn't hesitate or stall as if power was interrupted. Well, I could figure out what was wrong, doing many tests like putting masking tape over certain rail section to see if it was loosing electrical contact. Well, after about 2 hours of fiddling around, I decide to tackle the problem in the morning when I would be fresher. The next morning I bit the bullet and decided to open up the loco. There it was, a wire had broken off of the center rail roller frame, apparently not factory soldered correctly since there was no break in the wire, just the tinned wire end and a spot of solder on the roller frame. I didn't figure that a separate wire would be attached to the roller frame and not be connected to the loco's circuit board. The wire was just making contact with the roller frame, except when the loco would travel over that certain track section that had a slightly higher center rail and the front roller would be pushed upward. Waiting until the next day, with a fresh attempt after I was well rested, was the right approach. Best not to give up or keep doing things that don't help. It was a good idea to look for the simple solution first, like dirty or bad track. Usually track issues are the problem. And if a wire breaks, usually there isn't sporadic contact, but it does happen.
At times it seemed like I would never finish my layout. Some things I absolutely hated doing, like plastering the HO track to look like asphalt road with streetcar tracks. So I forced myself to do it for approximately 30 minutes a day, here and there, setting a kitchen timer and working until it would ring. Some of those half-hour sessions seemed like hours! But eventually the unpleasant task was done. No one else was going to do it for me and it was well within my ability, so I had to bite the bullet.
I work with the set of artistic skills I have. I know my shortcomings, even within the framework of an old-school toy train layout with its folk art charm. And with a layout you often can't always have all the things you want. Or you include sentimental items that don't really fit in. The layout is a collection of both art and practical things. Mechanical things have to work and things have to look reasonably good. Time and money are big limiting factors. Whatever I do on the artistic side of the hobby, I almost always have to correct something. I often repaint a project, carve or sand something away from a wooden, styrene, or polymer clay item, or even start over, completely. My first attempt is often never quite right. When I draw, I always have to correct a line because the first try is often wrong. I am not the best woodworker, but I know how to fix my mistakes with the clever use of wood filler and a good finish. I live with my problem and learned to work through it. You might see me say that you have to tinker with things you make, the homemade animation projects in particular. Again it is that correcting and redoing that makes the mechanical thing work well. Filing off some metal, sanding away a fraction of an inch of wood, whatever, correcting things, fussing with the stuff is what eventually gives you a good result. And there will be times when you get it right the first time. And other times things will frustrate you terribly. But never give up, or give in, and things will work out, with God's help! Just never give up!