Mars and Venus

The Day I Almost Killed My Family

by Paul Strikwerda in Articles, Career, Freelancing 24 Comments

Yesterday, I had a frightening realization.

In my life, I have wasted way too much time on things I’m not good at and don’t enjoy doing. Things like gardening, ballroom dancing and trying to understand how computers work and what to do when they don’t.

Some things like yard work can’t be avoided, and part of me says it’s good to be outdoors and work with weedkiller every once in a while. 

Things like dancing the Tango I really should avoid, as all my former dance partners can attest to. It’s utterly unromantic to have someone like me call out the steps while on the dance floor, because his stressed-out brain has no idea what the heck his body is doing.

And don’t get me started on computers. My greatest achievement is replacing the memory of my Mac Mini. My darkest hour came when I nearly strangled my old Dell in desperation, because it refused to shut down and install an update Mr. Gates deemed critical. After a series of malfunctions, this was the last straw.

“I’ll teach you a lesson, you worthless piece of trash,” I cried with bloodshot eyes, as if as my miserable laptop was listening.

“I’ve had it with you. If you don’t restart right now, I swear I will go to the Apple store today and you and I are done! It’s OVER! Do you hear me? I don’t deserve this!”

Don’t ask me how, but it did the trick. Two minutes later that pathetic thing was up and running again, and it continued to make my life a living hell for another year. Why did I put up with it, you wonder?

Well, I know my strengths and I have two left hands when it comes to things of a technological nature. I also lack the motivation to change that. Call me strange, but that’s how I feel.

Most men seem to have this “I can fix it” mentality. Psychologists say it’s in our DNA. While women long for men to acknowledge their problems and really listen with an open mind and heart, men are prone to jump in prematurely and offer solutions. It’s pre-programmed. We can’t help ourselves, but we sure want to help others. It’s that Mars and Venus thing.

Well, I must have missed the boat in that area of evolution, because I am rather reluctant to activate that helper-gene in me. Perhaps it’s for the best because over the years I have learned to live with a horrible truth:

I am terrible at fixing things… but I’m great at making matters worse.

Case in point.

When I was five years old, my Dad drove a forest green Ford Cortina. It was his pride and joy. One day and for no particular reason, the exhaust started making menacing noises. Being the frugal man he was, my father decided to keep on driving, hoping the loud bangs would eventually go away.

They didn’t.

Mourners at a funeral could tell he was getting close to the church (my father is a minister), because the sound of explosions would get louder and louder. Thank goodness people didn’t have car alarms in those days. Otherwise, his ferocious Ford would have set them all off at once.

As a child I remember being frightened and embarrassed by the bangs, and that’s why I took it upon myself to secretly intervene.

What if I were to stuff that wretched exhaust with leaves? Wouldn’t that muffle the noise? It worked for Cuddles my Guinea pig, so why not for my Dad’s car?

And that’s exactly what I did. One glorious Fall morning I shoved all the leaves I could find into the exhaust pipe and did not tell a soul about it. This would be my surprise. My gift to my Dad: A quiet Cortina.

That afternoon, on our way to see “The Aristocats,” I nearly killed the car…. and my immediate family, including myself.

So you see, when I say I’m no good at fixing things but I am great at making matters worse, I absolutely mean it!

That day I should have learned a valuable lesson:

If you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t do it. 

But I didn’t.

A few weeks later I tried to “repair” an outlet in my room by sticking both ends of an electrical wire in it. I nearly electrocuted myself and I left the whole house in the dark, including a congregation of praying church Elders who were meeting at our home. Good Lord!

When I was seven, I shaved off my five-year old sister’s eyebrows with my Mom’s ladyshave, just to see if I could improve her looks. It took me twenty seconds to realize my mistake, and I used a Sharpie® to bring her brows back, hoping my parents wouldn’t notice. I still remember the site of my poor little sister, looking very much like Mr. Spock. But it gets worse.

One time, when she wasn’t feeling well, I pretended to be a Druid and made her a concoction of apple juice and colorful berries I had picked from neighborhood bushes. I might have ended up an only child, had my mother not entered the room on time, ripping the deadly drink out of my sister’s hand. 

What can I say?

A few years and one or two close calls later, it finally dawned upon me that I better stay away from things I had no knowledge of.  A DIY-mentality can be detrimental, not only to the health and well-being of close friends and family, but to a freelance business. 

Now, that might not be a shocking revelation to you, yet, I find many self-starters to be deaf to that message, and blinded by their enthusiasm and inexperience.

Lacking the funds, the appropriate skills, knowledge and the right contacts, so many of them begin their entrepreneurial journey trying to do it all and fix everything…. and wonder why their business isn’t taking off within the year.

Sooner or later, all of us have to come to terms with our own limitations and fallibility. Or -to put it bluntly- our ignorance, arrogance and narrow-minded stupidity.

Having been self-employed for most of my working life, I learned many lessons the hard way. Had I known what I know now, I could have saved myself valuable time and lots of money. For example:

1. The only shortcut to success is to learn from people who are where you want to be.

Trial and error are the worst and the slowest teachers. They keep you down. You can see so much more when you stand on someone’s shoulders.

I encourage you to find people who inspire you. Identify what makes them tick. Study their skills and strategies. Make them your own. Refine them. Perfect them and pass them on to others.

Those who wish to reinvent the wheel, usually end up going around in circles. 

2. No matter how hard you try, you can’t be your own coach.

You’ll either cut yourself way too much slack, or you’ll be overly critical and paralyze every effort to be productive. More importantly, your ignorance will stifle your growth.

You cannot teach yourself what you haven’t mastered yet.

3. Never trust the opinion of friends and family.

Sticking feathers up your butt doesn’t make you a chicken, but here’s the thing: They don’t know that.

Family and friends are there to support you no matter what. However, most of them know zilch about the business you wish to break in to (more on that in this article). Love them with all your heart, but please don’t listen to them. 

The quality of the feedback always depends on the quality of the source.

4. Focus on what you’re good at and enjoy doing. Outsource the rest.

You don’t save any time or money by trying to fix your computer or build that website. Unless you have a degree in IT or web design, you’re likely to lose time and money you don’t have. 

Why insist on doing your own books and taxes? If numbers were never your strength, you’ll overlook substantial deductions and make a mess of your administration. Some people were born to be bookkeepers. Let them deal with your finances. Strangely enough, it makes them happy when it all adds up!

5. Don’t sing your own praises.

A little bit of self-esteem can go a long way, but too much of it is a huge turn-off. Respect is earned. Let your work speak for itself. It may take a few years to build up a solid reputation, but you’re in it for the long run, aren’t you?

Give others credit, and realize that happy customers are your best credentials.

6. If you mess up, fess up.

Nobody is perfect and you are bound to make mistakes. Some people are quick to blame others for their failures and point to themselves when things go well. As the owner of your business, you must own up to your successes, as well as to your slip-ups.

You’ll never be able to better yourself if you don’t acknowledge that you still have a lot to learn. No one expects you to know it all, and if you surround yourself with experts, you don’t have to. 

Last but not least:

7. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength.

When something’s not right, don’t wait until things escalate. If you’re in over your head, look for strong shoulders to lean on. You’d be surprised how many people will welcome the opportunity to help you… but you’ve got to ask!

And above all, don’t waste you’re time on things you’re not meant to do. You know what I am talking about.

These things will never make you happy. 

Stop trying to fix things you have no business fixing.

Believe me. Your family and friends will be eternally grateful!

Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice

What happens when your recording studio is flooded? A nasty home emergency with a happy ending!