I think I have a bit of a split personality. At times, I lean towards a stereotypical male approach of fixing things. If the faucet drips, I’m on edge until I de-drip it. If there is a squeak in a door hinge, the sound will drive me nuts until I oil it. And if my back aches, all I want is to get my healthy back…well…back.
I’m driven to fix stuff.
On the other hand, I have a master’s degree in social work and was trained as a therapist. That means that I was schooled in understanding how people and processes work. I learned that sometimes, an external situation can’t be fixed and we must be willing to just sit with it. My tendency to want to fix things is probably why I was a decent-but-not-so-great social worker. When clients wanted to discuss their issues and just needed someone to listen, I had the urge to blurt out all the solutions that would address their issues. This is not a career-building quality for a therapist.
So, essentially, I’m a fixer by nature but trained to be patient when it comes to fixing things. That’s why I feel like I have a split personality. And yes, it does drive my wife nuts.
There’s a hilarious video on YouTube called, “It’s Not About the Nail.” It’s about the conflict that arises between a woman who simply wants her partner to listen and a man who simply wants to fix her problem. The video offers a funny perspective on a common communication scenario. It also reminded me that I can easily get seduced into a fix-it-ism mindset. In fact, it happened recently.
A few weeks ago, I had a speaking engagement outside of Nashville followed by another presentation two days later in Columbus, Ohio. My departing airport is in Charlottesville, VA and because it’s not a hub, I always have to connect through either Washington, DC or Chicago to get to my final destination.
On this particular trip, I boarded my plane and a few minutes later, the pilot announced that, due to the weather, there would be a two-hour delay for incoming flights in Chicago. This meant that my Charlottesville flight could not take off, so we were told to get off the plane and return to the airport.
Once back in the gate area, I checked the weather forecast in Chicago. It looked pretty bad for the rest of the day. Since the two-hour delay would cause me to miss my connection in Chicago, and since I didn’t want to get stranded there, I called United and changed my flight to go through Washington instead. After getting my new itinerary, I gathered up my belongings and left the airport. About forty-five minutes later, I got an alert on my phone informing me that my original flight had taken off. The original two-hour delay ended up being 37 minutes. Ugh.
When I got home, I discussed the situation with my wife and we realized that if I was going to get stranded, it would be better to be stuck in Chicago than Washington, since Chicago is closer to Nashville. So, I called United again and rebooked my already rebooked itinerary to take a flight later in the day through Chicago. Well, to make this long story only slightly shorter, I encountered two more flight delays, had to endure a long drive to my hotel once I landed in Nashville, and fought a pounding headache that pulsed with the beat of my rental car’s windshield wipers for most of the drive.
At the end of the day, the trip took eight hours longer than it would have taken if I had simply waited for my initial flight to depart. In other words, I rushed to judgment, trying to fix the situation, and it ended up being worse.
On the surface, this may seem like I was being cautious or planning ahead. But considering my tendencies, I think there was a better approach. Let’s consider it.
I am a seasoned traveler and know, based on previous experience, that when a pilot says there’s going to be a delay, it may be longer or shorter than stated. That’s why we’re always told to stay “near the gate area”—in case the plane leaves earlier than anticipated.
With my Nashville flight, I should have waited for ten to twenty minutes just to see how the situation unfolded. Instead, I wrongly believed that I needed to act more quickly. In reality, I had options even if I missed my connection. But, I wanted to fix the situation because I couldn’t sit with the anxious discomfort of being in an uncertain situation. Ironically, if I had been more accepting of the anxiety, the problem would have resolved itself.
We live in a culture that is uncomfortable with discomfort. We pop pain-relief pills for every ache and pain. We crank up the air conditioning when the temperature rises just a bit. And we seek unhealthy snacks for each little hunger pang. I wonder if we might be more comfortable if we could actually tolerate the discomfort rather than always trying to remove it.
I know I’m a fixer. However, as I get older, I’d like to become a better sitter. I don’t mean that I want to sit on the couch all day. Instead, I’d like to become more comfortable with doing nothing—when doing nothing might just be the best reaction to the situation. In other words, I’d like to “sit before I leap.” If I could do that, I might just fix my need to fix.