Let Go of Those Tools!

You need to loosen that leaky pipe under your sink so you can replace it. You don’t have the right tool, so it’s off to your neighborhood hardware store. There you consult John, a knowledgeable clerk who helps you pick the right wrench.

The next morning John calls. “I was up all night worrying about you,” he says. “I was hoping you knew how to use the wrench. Removing that pipe can be tricky unless you really know what you’re doing. Why don’t I come over and do it for you?”

At the least, you would consider the call and the offer very strange; you might even think John was stalking you!

How often do you do the same when people come to you for guidance? You give them the tool to solve their problem. Instead of trusting that they’ll be able to use the tool properly, however, you fret that maybe they can’t. Worse, you then proceed to handle the problem for them! And then you wonder why people can’t seem to do things for themselves!

I did this last week with my oldest daughter, Shade. We were headed in separate vehicles to her apartment. I was driving a van full of household goods for her. She was in the lead and would get to her place at least 10 minutes before I arrived.

I started to imagine Shade’s apartment as it was when I last saw it. Two words: totally cluttered. I called Shade on her cell phone and gave her instructions for clearing a path so we could unload the van quickly.

After I hung up, I didn’t feel good about the conversation. I had just violated my own rule: “Ask questions instead of giving suggestions.”

It would have been much more effective to have said, “Shade, I want to make sure we can move this furniture into your apartment easily. What can you do before I get there to make that possible?”

I know my daughter well enough that she would have pondered the question for a few moments and then said something like, “I know I need to move the big chair so we can put the stereo against the wall. I can move it into the bedroom.” And so on.

I would have gotten the results I wanted. At the same time, I’d have reinforced with Shade a lesson to practice with the tool I’d given her, namely, the idea that you need to think ahead when you’re approaching a project like this. Instead, Shade didn’t need to think at all. I did it for her.

I know you’re very capable. I also know how you got that way—by taking the bull by the horns and just doing it! I also understand your desire to spare others from having to learn the hard way stems from kindness, not bossiness. (For most of you, anyhow!)

You think you can teach others by showing them the right way. You can’t understand why they stubbornly refuse to heed your wisdom. They insist on doing it their way, and you stand by frustrated as they make mistakes.

They can only learn the same way you did—by jumping in with both feet and sometimes getting it wrong.

If you’re like me, you’re still learning that way! I got it wrong with Shade when I told her what to do instead of allowing her to come up with her own plan. The next time a similar situation occurs, I hope I will do better because of the mistake this time.

Think of that hardware store scenario again. John would answer your questions and maybe tell you how he would fix that pipe. But in the end, when you walk out the door armed with his wisdom and the wrench you need, he won’t give you another thought. Whether you fix the problem is up to you.

John, you see, knows how to let go of those tools!

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