It’s Not That Difficult
Why Doing It Yourself, Starting Now, and Breaking Things is what you need more of in your life.
He pulls it apart and I’m getting seriously nervous.
Anyone in this situation would either panic and call for help, or throw their hands up and declare it a lost cause.
I remember his rough red hands turning paper white as they wrapped around the plastic frame of the car door. He’d rattle the painted cover a little and then, frustrated from the non-detachment, jolt it apart by dragging his arms straight out in front of him downward using his entire bodyweight. A rock tied to a feather by just two strands of thread.
A saner man would have taken their car to a mechanic when they discover the windows had stopped functioning appropriately, but not him, not my Dad.
Summer in Mississippi can be dehumanizing too.
In the humidity and heat you start to grow short tempered with even the most mundane things.
The Sabine Gull sitting in the middle of a busy road, his black hood and red eyes indicating that he just doesn’t care that your car is heading directly towards him at more than 80 MPH? That bastard, he’ll move or die, you can’t help but think to yourself.
And so, when the car windows ceased to move at even the most dire push or pull of the rotation handle that – any other summer – controlled them, my Father decided enough was enough: he’d fix them himself.
Getting a car window replaced can run anywhere from $80 to $180, depending on the car type, the damage to the window motor and/or crank, how busy the autoshop is, whether you have a family or friend connection to the mechanic, etc.
“For that price you might as well do it yourself,” my Father said. He meant it for not only the car windows, but most everything else too (he built a house by himself once, plumbing and all, with zero prior experience doing such a thing).
So we sat in the dirt driveway that scorching summer afternoon and he ripped the doors of the car apart with his bare hands to see what was going wrong.
At the time I thought he was a mad man.
Not fixing the windows wasn’t an option, due to the heat, but why not suck up the cost and send the car to a mechanic?
Only after he had pulled all the plastic apart, and after he had meticulously undone every single screw that held the metal to the plastic (and laid them down, in order, on the driveway pavement), and after he had identified that the cause of the window’s failure was a single cog that had somehow become stripped bare, and after he drove the 45 minutes to a nearby auto repair store to buy a new cog and then drive all the way back home, after he put everything back exactly as it was before (with the addition of a new cog), and only after he got into the driver’s seat and rolled the window down successfully, did I finally realize that what I had originally thought to be a difficult task was actually fairly easy.
And it wasn’t the task itself that necessarily mattered here. What mattered was the act of not taking the world at face-value, but instead ripping things apart to see how they worked.
To see how somebody, somewhere, not much smarter than you, put it together in the first place.
We encounter a lot of seemingly difficult things every day.
We have bills to pay. The hose to the kitchen sink broke. The soles on my shoes are coming apart. My laptop screen won’t stop flickering. The boss wants a 40 page report on why my work matters. I’m hungry for some really good Asian food but don’t know how to make the fried vegan orange chicken like they do down at that restaurant down the block.
Typically our solutions to these problems involve a very distinct process that we have – all of us – perfected over what I can only assume is hundreds of thousands of years of human evolution.
First we sigh, roll our eyes, or physically melt into ourselves (re: slouching).
Overwhelmed by the sheer size of our To Do lists, this one more thing thing is going to crush us, we’re sure of it, so we immediately feel overwhelmed.
Next, weighted by the task of having the one more thing to do, we look for the easy way out.
Can it wait until next week (or next month, or even next year)? Maybe if we put it off long enough it will just disappear. Sometimes that happens, or so I hear on TV from the Kardashians.
If the one more thing happens to slip into our list of To Actually Do items, we procrastinate. The mere thought of working on this thing is disgusting. We’ve got better things to do: catching up on TV, browsing BuzzFeed, reading one of the dozen or so books that have stacked up near my bed because I swear, one day, I’ll get to them all. So we come up with all of the reasons in the world why we don’t absolutely need to get to that thing right now.
In the event that things get really bad (like your boss is now staring over your shoulder wondering why you haven’t written that report yet but “Oh you have time to check Facebook 239 times a day?”) we find a way to outsource the work.
We hire a mechanic to fix the damn windows, or we look to a “lesser” employee to help us write the report. We throw the task off of our list of things To Do in an attempt to free-up more of our time to focus on the things that matter (like reading that really hilarious article about “Ten Reasons Your Cat Thinks You’re Fat”).
But, like my Father tearing into that car door on an unbearably hot Mississippi summer day: the one more thing isn’t going to be as difficult as we make it out to be. After-all: Everything is easier once you start.
Maybe the one more thing will actually be hard though. Maybe we’ll sweat a little and maybe we’ll have to actually use our bodyweight to pull some shit apart. Maybe you’ll have to sit down and use the keyboard to write all of those words that you’ve been meaning to write and dub “My Novel.” Maybe you’ll lose a screw when taking the kitchen sink apart.
But most things — really most things — just aren’t that hard. Even if you have to pull a little, you’ll survive. Even if you have to say “no” to going out tonight because you really should start writing at least a few words of that novel, there’s always next weekend. And even if you lose a screw while taking the kitchen sink apart, I guarantee you’ll be able to buy a replacement one for 5¢ from the local hardware store.
My point is this: we make things harder for ourselves more often than not.
Not happy with your job? You actually have a big say in that. So let your boss know why you’re unhappy, and keep telling him until something happens. Or better yet: start doing side work during off-hours, if you do it long enough someone will want to pay you to do it full-time in a year or two or five.
Saw a plane flying overhead and thought it would be cool to learn how to do that yourself? Don’t just day dream about it, get on Google and see if there are any classes you can take nearby, or if there are any good books you can get to explore the opportunity further.
There may be tears in these things, and you may have to make some sacrifices, you may even break something (bones, spirit, or the bank), but it’s better than being a mindless drone that lives under the assumption that things are meant to be hard. That fixing cars is for mechanics only or that launching a multi-million dollar website is for California nerds only.
You can do more than you imagine if you just start.
I’ll end with that. Stop reading this. Go do something yourself.