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Saturday Morning Quarterback: The Summer of Do It Yourself

This isn’t my son but when I showed him this photo he thought it was him. Freaked him out.

Here’s a helpful little program I created for my kids to enforce self-reliance and self-confidence. Not long after, I realized I should probably follow the program myself, and it has helped me as much or more than it helped them.

This story is part of a topic series called Saturday Morning Quarterback, where I dive into startup topics along more life-oriented angles, like sports and parenting, to name just a couple. Visit my author page for more serious startup stuff.

I’m the creator of a great many schemes. I love scheming. It’s how ideas turn into reality. Now, a lot of my schemes are planned well in advance, but when I parent, schemes come organically. Like, when I say something to one of my kids, and it sticks and it works, I’ll turn that into a scheme, then a program, then I look like I know what I’m doing as a parent. But it’s really all reactive, which is 98% of parenting anyway.

This particular scheme, The Summer of Do It Yourself, sprang up over a couple of weeks a couple summers ago. We’ve repeated it each summer since, with increasingly awesome results.

Here’s how it works. Every time one of our kids asks us for something, we tell them to do it themselves. It sounds simple, but if you’re a parent you understand that this takes some getting used to.

“Mom, where are my clothes?”

They’re in your dresser, try to pick out something that won’t make the other kids laugh at you.

“Daddy, will you cut my pizza?”

Nope. Knives are next to the forks. Mind you don’t cut yourself, Mordecai.

“What’s a Mordecai?”

HOW HAVE YOU NEVER SEEN RAISING ARIZONA?

“I’m eight.”

Fair enough. Just be careful.

There’s a joyous freedom that comes with leaning on this as a program rather than, you know, sort of booting them out of the nest of helicopter parenting.

“The garbage can is full.”

You know that big green bin next to the garage? SUMMER OF DO IT YOURSELF! YEAH!

And we don’t have to get off our butts as often, so right away this is paying dividends. But it’s actually more mental work than just doing things for them, as we now have to play “what happens next” with a lot of different and unexpected scenarios.

One morning last week, the boy went to get his own glass of milk and wound up pouring milk all over the counter. First reaction? Get up, go in the kitchen, clean it up. SoDIY reaction?

Paper towels are over there. Use Windex or it will get sticky. Don’t spray Windex in your eyes. Or in your cup. Or at your sisters. Or the dog.

Like I said, it soon occurred to me that SoDIY doesn’t have to be limited to parenting, and it can pretty much apply to me as well. But since I’ve already mastered dressing myself and cutting my own pizza, it becomes about thinking about things differently in order to look at old ideas in different ways.

We’ve got a whole economy based on getting others to do things for us that we either don’t have the time or the inclination to do ourselves. Especially those of us at a certain age with a plethora of priority responsibilities like working, parenting, and paying bills.

Eventually, this creeps up on you, and the more we succumb to the pattern of doing what we need to do, we stop doing what we want to do, and we all head down that khaki-pants and cubicle nine-to-five existence that none of us imagined signing up for when our parents were pouring our milk.

Leadership also has a healthy SoDIY component, and it can be the fine line between micromanagement and complete chaos (and that is a fine line). Good leaders always have one weakness in common — they’re very late to let go of responsibility and authority (they’ll always admit to the former, they’ll rarely own up to the latter). This usually turns good leaders into awful administrators.

I don’t want to be the kind of leader that is constantly hovering over my reports, and I’ll deal with being the kind that just yells at them when they screw up. Because if they’re not screwing up, they’re not doing anything worthwhile. They’re not learning. They’re not growing. I’m still cutting their pizza.

Metaphorically.

Until I let (or make) them start doing those things they’re not sure they can or should be doing and, more importantly, fixing their own mistakes when they screw up, I’ll be relegated to being just a manager, holding the clipboard, so to speak. Sure, I’ll never work myself out of a job, but what kind of job am I left with? The kids gotta leave the nest at some point.

The summer has just started. Ease into it, let stuff go, and let the kids pick up their own messes. And on top of that, start doing things you haven’t done. You may not climb a mountain or find your spirit animal, but you may just discover or rediscover a part of yourself that makes you happy.

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