Assume there's a fix. Assume you can fix it.

Life is full of problems to solve and broken things to fix, but where we start determines when and where we end... or if we bother to run the race at all.

Assume there's a fix. Assume you can fix it.
Photo by Kenny Eliason / Unsplash

As a homeowner, as a parent of small children with breakable toys, as someone who owns cars and tools and his own breakable toys, as a programmer... something is always broken and in need of fixing. It's a state of life, but one that I used to dread and avoid.

If I could make a problem go away, I would. Cheap toys got thrown out. Lawn equipment got trashed and replaced. Cars went straight to the shop. And when I couldn't make it go away? I'd take a little vacation to my favorite states - denial and procrastination. It's amazing what kind of weird rattling noises you can drown out by turning the car radio up a little higher. ๐Ÿ˜‚๐ŸŽถ

Whatever I might have told myself - that the toy wasn't worth fixing, that the equipment was old anyway, that I'm not a mechanic - the reality is that I had a bad habit of convincing myself that the solution, if there was one, was beyond me. The problem was too complex, too obscure, something better left to people with more experience... people who tried and failed, tried again and eventually succeeded. Oh wait.

One of the biggest shifts in my thinking over the years has been in my approach to problems. Instead of avoiding them, I try to lean into them, acknowledge them. Maybe reluctantly, certainly exhaustedly, but with the full realization that there is a solution. Take a deep breath, and remind yourself that nothing is truly unfixable until you decide it is.. after all, someone had to make it in the first place.

The shift didn't come from the problems themselves, but from my attempts to fix one thing, then another and another. Sometimes it works, like last weekend when I disassembled part of a leaf blower to replace the primer bulb and fuel line hose. Or when I damaged an electrical cord the week before that, and repaired it with a soldering gun and some heat shrink tubing. Or when a handful of integration tests started failing in one of our CI builds at work, and I tracked the issue down to an incorrect permission that was applied to a development database. Other times it doesn't work, and then I try to look at it as a learning experience. Whatever the outcome, celebrate the wins and don't berate yourself for trying.

When I started working for a new employer a few years ago, it was the first time I had worked anywhere as a contractor. I was charging hourly for the first time, filling out a weekly timesheet for the projects I spent time on, and it helped to track what I was doing every day - cards completed, tasks finished, that kind of thing. Naturally, I focused more on the wins than the losses, in case someone questioned what I brought to the team. You don't sell yourself or your abilities by focusing on all the things you didn't accomplish, lol.

After a year or so, I came on full time, but I had grown so used to tracking what I was doing day-to-day, that I kept it up.. and still do. Part of it is the feeling of accomplishment I get, looking back at what I've done, the problems I've solved, the people I've helped. Not everyone's days (including mine) are full of wins, but we all have them. It's become a good habit to note them, and it's rare that a day goes by that I didn't face at least one problem head-on and solve it. I think the same is true for all of us.

It doesn't necessarily make everything easier, but in a sense it does. Our own minds can really work against us. It's better if you're not working against yourself, starting down a road by assuming you can't get to the end of it. It's better to keep telling yourself, you've solved problems before, and you will again. With every success comes confidence that the next success will come too, whatever it looks like. Not always easily, but it will.