Whether or not we realize it, we all fall into roles defined by the culture and society we live in. Who you are and how you act can be influenced by your family, your teachers, friends, the news, books you’ve read, or events from your past. We often let others convince us we are not capable of achieving or doing something. All too often we convince ourselves of our own inabilities and fail before we’ve even begun.
At some point in our collective culture in the United States, we decided that men were the fixers, the doers, the handy-men around the house there to rescue their female counterparts when something was broken or not working properly. All the while the man is working and repairing the woman is doing her nails, taking care of the children, cooking dinner, or gossiping over the phone with friends. These 1950s gender roles have transformed and become barely recognizable as the customs that define marriage, family, and work have evolved over time. Despite the change, we sometimes still find ourselves doing things simply because that’s the way they’ve always been done, that’s the way they are expected to continue. I’ll admit, I allowed the culture of my family and society to shape my actions for years as well.
In all the years of our marriage and while we were together, my husband was always the one to repair things around the house. When we first moved in together he and my brother pieced together all of our new furniture while I busied myself unpacking dishes and other kitchenware, hanging curtains on the windows, spreading the sheets across the bed, folding towels for the linen closet, and cleaning up the discarded plastic and cardboard. Forever after, any time something broke it was understood that I was to leave it until he had the chance to get around to it, even if that meant waiting weeks. When the job was too complex we called the maintenance service for our housing complex and inevitably a man was sent to tend to things.
Once, we called the repair man for fix a leaky sink. Over time, the drip, drip of the faucet had slowly turned into a steady stream of water even in the off position. When the repairman arrived I told him it probably just needed a new washer. He proceeded to remove everything from beneath my sink, unscrew the pipes, and declare, “This is major surgery.” After hours of grunting, groaning, banging, and leaving to get more parts or tools or motivation he finally stopped the leak by replacing the worn out washer from the faucet top. It was hardly an open-heart operation.
When my husband was able to perform the repair, it turned into an event as epic as the sink surgery. No matter the weather or the time of year he’d turn off the heat, set the AC to arctic, spread out every piece of equipment, every tool in the house across the floor in whichever room where the broken needed to be fixed or new item needed to be put together. Nothing could be done without much groaning, swearing, complaining, banging, and sweating.
Over the years I came to believe that these tasks took great effort and attention and should be appreciated and regarded with awe. When my husband and I separated several years ago and I lived alone for the first time in my life, I was secretly terrified of having to perform these expert-only around the house jobs. Not willing to ask for help without a valiant effort, I started to do things myself.
Since he moved out I’ve put together bookcases, repaired the water filter on my kitchen sink that never worked right before, reattached the chain from within the toilet tank countless times, hooked up my DVD player, hung picture frames, fixed computer problems, reconnected the sectional couch that always comes undone, and all the other simple tasks that I was made to believe I could not do. Better yet, I did them without complaining, swearing, yelling, or slamming.
There was one final around the house job that I’d been dreading for years– setting up an internet connection. I knew at some point my modem and wireless connection would stop working and need to be replaced. It was the last thing on the list of husband-only tasks I had yet to perform.
When I returned home from my road trip I had a letter from my internet provider informing me I needed to send away for a new modem. I ignored the letter. They sent another. They called me to remind me I still hadn’t contacted them. I set the paperwork in my pile of bills and put it off for a month all the while having to regularly reset the internet connection that cut out each time I turned in on. Finally, I went online and ordered the new modem. I breathed relief when it said the shipping estimate was 4-6 weeks then sighed when the box showed up on my doorstep three days later.
I placed the box in my living room by the old modem and stared at it for days. It would wait until Sunday, I reasoned, when I had nothing else to do. Surely it would take much time and effort as it had when my husband had first connected the old one.
This afternoon I pulled open the box, laid out all the pieces, disconnected my old equipment, hooked up the new modem and cables, and established a new wireless internet connection in about five minutes, ten if you count the time it took to update and activate the system online. It could not have been easier.
I’m sure most, if not all, of you reading this are laughing at the sheer simplicity of all of the above mentioned tasks. I know that nothing I’ve done has come close to the serious repairs that a homeowner must perform or task out to someone more knowledgeable. I’m not an electrician, plumber, or carpenter (though I did help my brother build a pretty amazing deck on his house one summer). There are certainly things that I cannot do. What I will no longer do, however, is convince myself that I’m incapable of something before I’ve made the first attempt.
I invite you to explore things in your own life you’ve prevented yourself from doing without any real reason. Are you stuck in old patterns, preventing yourself from making change, or avoiding new opportunities simply because you’ve convinced yourself that you cannot succeed? What would you do, what could you do if your mind was no longer holding you back?