Saturday, March 13, 2021

To err is human, the choice is mine

There’s one thing in particular that I’ve noticed over the past 17+ months: It’s quite common for people to try to discourage me from doing things for myself. They want me to hire someone to do things, or maybe say that I shouldn't do something at all. What they don’t realise, though, is that it’s in the attempts—and maybe especially the failures—that I’ll find my way into the new life I don’t yet have. The reason is simple: I need to find out who I can be on order to become whoever that is.

To be sure, absolutely no one is “being mean” to me, no one is treating me like a sort of invalid, and no one is being condescending or whatever. Instead, they want good things for me, sometimes mixed with the fact that they may suspect I might not be up to the task at hand because they’ve never seen me do whatever it is I’m thinking about doing. The truth is, I might not be up to the task I’m thinking about doing, but how can I know—how can they know—if I don’t try?

The first time I was aware of this was last year when I bought a lawnmower. Several folks suggested that instead I should hire a lawnmowing service, but I wanted the excuse for exercise, something I guessed—rightly, as it turned out—my doctor would praise. A few days after I bought my mower, New Zealand went under Covid-19 lockdown, and no one would have been able to mow my lawns for around five weeks or so—and they were already overgrown when I bought the mower, so I can imagine what they'd look like with another five weeks. I used that mower four times during those five weeks (and a total of 23 times over the year since I bought it, sometimes just for the front or back lawn, usually both of them).

I stood my ground on the mower, and was glad that I did. I don’t exactly look forward to mowing the lawns, however, once I start I always enter a sort of zen-like state (seriously!), and when I’m done I feel a sense of accomplishment. By getting the mower, I proved to myself that I could do it, I could mow the lawns as they needed it—and survive the effort.

Over the past 17+ months, I’ve also taken on several technological problems, and each time I eventually succeeded in solving those problems, some more easily than others. Again, I proved to myself that I could do it, and that’s given me the courage to take on more, and more complicated, technological projects.

The truth is, for most of my life I’ve felt either inadequate or doubted myself or my abilities. When I was a teen, I wrote (mainly) short fiction because I thought I’d never be as good at writing poetry as my mother was, and I stuck to writing at all because I figured I could never be as good at public speaking as my dad was. Eventually, I wrote all sorts of stuff, including poetry, though I ended up sticking mainly to non-fiction. I also became a podcaster and, through that, learned to speak in public (more or less). The point isn’t whether I was/am any good at any of my efforts—that doesn't matter. What’s important is that I doubted myself, held back, pushed through that, and then realised that I was more capable than I thought I was—just as I’ve done with the numerous technical problems I’ve overcome this past 17+ months, and even with mowing the lawns.

I’m quite susceptible to others expressing doubt or discouraging me, but Nigel was the only person whose opinion I truly valued, the only one whose approval mattered. He’d sometimes make it clear that he didn’t think I could do a thing, then often caught himself, and gave me space to fail—or succeed. There were times I felt he was being sceptical in order to incite an, “Oh yeah? Watch this!” attitude in me. At the same time, he left things like painting rooms and editing his documents to me because he knew I was better at those things than he was. He also never interfered in my political activities, and generally only offered advice if I asked for it (and withholding it must’ve taken a lot of effort sometimes…). He did, however, oppose me mowing the lawns at the old house, and I think that was definitely wise for those times.

When Nigel died, and I lost the only opinion I truly cared about, it became easier for me to stubbornly assert what I wanted, and also my desire to try to do things for myself. And yet, negative talk, whether others’ or my own, can make me doubt myself, sometimes deeply, and scare me off doing things. More commonly, though, it paralyses me and keeps me from making any decisions about what to do around the house because I want to do one thing, but I’m afraid others (and the voice in my head) are right, and I’ll fail. Doing nothing seems safer than doing something and failing (thereby proving all those doubting voices, including my own, correct), and less soul-destroying than giving up without a fight.

What I’ve come to realise through all this is that I have to be free to fail. Without that, I can’t know where my limits truly are or what I’m capable of, and both of those are vital to find out what sort of life I may have in the years ahead.

And, not to put too fine a point on it, but I often actually succeed in what I want to do.

Which is not to say that I don’t, and won’t, make mistakes. Of course I will—I’ve already made several. It also doesn’t mean that my abilities will meet or exceed the challenges, because sometimes they won’t. I still suffer from profound fatigue that keeps me from having the energy to do the things I can see so clearly in my head, but even when I push through that, there have been been failures caused by lack of resources (like, for example, that I still haven’t found most of my tools, which makes it hard for me to do some projects around the house).

Several years ago, I took on this same demon and gave myself a mantra I repeated so much to myself that it could’ve been my epitaph in those years: “Feel the fear, and do it anyway.” I followed that so often at that time that even Nigel was impressed with what I’d do—and he may quite possibly have been amazed. But, then, over the years I frequently surprised him in good ways, and that’s one of the things that helped keep us growing as a couple, I think.

What I’m going through is a bit like being an adolescent all over again: I’m finding my identity as an individual, I’m testing my limits, and I’m finding the things I’m good at and not so good at. Just as it is for an adolescent, what I’m going through is a necessary part of moving forward into whatever my life will become. But I also think the fact I both realise and embrace that shows that I’m trying to find my way to move forward, and that’s a good thing—and so is the fact I'm not actually an adolescent.

So, I’ll continue to try and ignore naysayers (by which I mainly mean the voice inside my head) and “feel the fear, and do it anyway”. I’ll have total failures, some “incomplete successes”, and sometimes I’ll get a perfect result. But I have no way of knowing which it will be until I at least try. My future depends on it.

To err is human, the choice is mine—and mine alone.

The graphic above was a tongue in cheek thing I posted to my personal Facebook after I mowed the lawns today, the 23rd time I used the mower since I bought it.

This post has been updated with some talk about part of what was on my mind when I wrote this post. Follow the link to see the update.


Roger Owen Green said...

I mow the lawn, but I need a new mower.
But I ceded raking the lawn because I HATE IT. I could do it, and my wife seems to enjoy it. But I hired someone to help her because I didn't it to be me making more work for her. I'll spend money in a heartbeat not to do stuff I hate.

Arthur Schenck said...

I would, too: If there's something I either hate doing or am not qualified to do (like plumbing or electrical) I'll definitely hire someone. But there's a huge area of "stuff" where I don't know if I hate doing it or if can do it, and that's where the problem lies.