Growing up with three brothers, I wasn’t given much of a chance to do the small jobs around the house that required a little elbow grease. As a result (or perhaps I’m just lazy and like all Boomers, I prefer to blame my parents) I ask for help a lot, especially when my husband is around. “Honey, can you open that jar for me?” How about that window that seems to have been painted shut? Can you start a fire in the fireplace? Reach the vase on the top shelf? Unclog the toilet? Fix my computer?
I like to think that I ask for help only when I really need it…but I know I often ask for help when I really don’t. It’s not that I like to play the damsel in distress (in fact, I find that act quite unappealing), but sometimes I take the path of least resistence, which basically means that I have simply become indolent, asking another to do what I could most likely do.
But as I travel through mid-life, I have become increasingly uncomfortable relying on others to do things that I can actually do myself. It seems a bit antithetical, but with middle age I have a need to be more self-reliant, not less. Perhaps it is a “use it or lose it” feeling, or that feeling of dread that I may be alone some day so I had better get with the program, or perhaps it is because helplessness doesn’t really work that well on a boat in the middle of the ocean.
So with some upcoming changes in latitude, I’m changing my attitude (thanks, Jimmy Buffet.) I am testing the waters (so to speak) to see what I really can do. I am learning to have a “can do” attitude, because I truly believe that self-reliance may be the second most important quality (right behind resilience) to have in midlife. I am trying to take every opportunity to at least try to do things myself before asking for help. And what I have found to be very effective, is to ask myself one question:
“Is this something I could do if my life depended on it?”
And surprisingly, the answer is almost always yes.
Yes, of course I could open that jar of spicy pickles if my life depended on it! I would find a way to open that window, lift that box, start that dingy motor…if my life depended on it. With a little grit, some ingenuity, and a whole lot of will, I find that I “can do” most things independently (except fixing the computer—I can’t do that…) I have found self reliance to be very empowering.
Years ago when Mike and I were mere children, we were snorkeling off a dingy in the Bahamas when we noticed a shark in the water close by. It was probably a friendly shark (ha) but Mike had already swum back and hoisted himself into the dingy in one smooth movement, while I was still swimming away slowly backward, looking that shark in the face, as I had been taught to do in scuba diving class. When I got to the dingy, there was absolutely no way I could hoist myself in- even if my life depended on it, which I had an inkling it did. Mike gallantly hoisted me up, grabbing me by two wrists and then the ass (not a pretty picture) and pulled me aboard. (Rather than thanking him for getting me in the dingy and away from the shark, I might have said something like, “so why didn’t you just cut me with the knife before swimming away and saving yourself?” And by the way, he will never live this one down.)
I thought about the “getting into the dingy from the ocean problem” the other day, and decided that, this too, was a problem that needed to be solved. After all, I assume I have not seen my last shark, and my life may depend on it some day. This is when I came across this video:
Soon…with a bit of practice…if I don’t drown trying…I will, indeed, conquer the dinghy (and I intend on kicking the shark in the head as I do my back flip…)
But I will have to give you a written update, because I can assure you of one thing: no one will ever post a video of me doing this.
Not even if my life depends on it.