How Better Well-Being is Just a Light Bulb Away
When life feels out of control, change the bulbs and fix the broken windows.
“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”
On New Year’s Day I gave myself one assignment — change every burned-out light bulb in my house.
I’m a textbook ENFP, so rather than deal with chores, bills or preventative car maintenance for the rest of my life, I’d actually prefer you just punch me in the face. My ENFP leanings also mean that I’m wildly observant in some areas (I’ll obsess over your word choice and body language from that one conversation two weeks ago), but oblivious in others (oh, my car registration expired three months ago? Didn’t notice, I was too busy reading all the bumper stickers during my commute.).
This, coupled with my love for candles, lamps and open blinds, means a few missing overhead lights typically don’t bother me. I’m breezy! Adaptable! Once I actually notice the problem, I quickly convince myself I don’t have the tools I need to fix it right then. So I ignore it. (The high-tech missing tools? Uh, a new light bulb and a step-ladder.) But as I looked around my home the week of Christmas, I realized I didn’t just have one or two bad bulbs. I had seven of them.
It’s not that I didn’t care about these burned-out bulbs. (I mean, obviously I didn’t, but that’s not the real reason I left them alone.) It’s that I hardly realized I wasn’t operating with all the light offered to me.
I wasn’t practicing what I preached.
You see, the lamp by my front door has a beautiful base, but I never really liked the lampshade. So a few months ago I covered it with lyrics and quotes about light. I love words and believe in their power, and I wanted everyone who entered my home to feel inspired when they walked in the door. I wanted them to feel that light. Meanwhile, the rest of my house was getting darker and darker and I just looked to more and more quick fixes to brighten it up. More candles, more daylight. Or I let the room stay dark, lit only by the TV.
As I wandered from room to room, flipping switches, suddenly I no longer felt “breezy and adaptable.” I felt ashamed.
I was reminded of the (controversial) broken windows theory. The theory applies to policing and basically says that if a community tolerates petty crimes like broken windows, graffiti, public intoxication, etc., it becomes more vulnerable to larger crimes.
I looked around my house and noticed the other “broken windows.” A stack of unopened mail. An unmade bed. Coats with missing buttons. A refrigerator that needed cleaning.
Slippery slope. On the surface, none of those is a huge deal. But the more they build, the more out of control my life feels. The more that apathy for the small tasks grows into apathy and fear of the big tasks.
So I bought a ladder and eight light bulbs (one to grow on), and I flooded my home with light.
I didn’t make resolutions this year. Instead, I’m just fixing the broken windows.
Originally published at medium.com on January 11, 2017.