Saying No To “Do It Yourself”

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“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” – Maimonides.

“Eew, I don’t want to fish!” — Margie Wheelhouse

Yeah, I get it. It’s a really great idea to learn to do things because, well, then you can do those things. You can save money. You can grow into a more competent person. Thank goodness I’ve found great teachers to help me learn those things I really need to do for myself. The problem is, there are only so many hours in the day, and so many years in a life. I want to spend as many hours as possible doing what I love, and as many hours as I must, doing what I must. Doing therapy is what I love. When I have a choice, who says I have to learn to:

  • Do all my business taxes
  • Create and tend a great website
  • Maximize my search engine optimization for every page and post myself
  • Fix my broken antique doorknob (yes, I was ridiculed for hiring this out)
  • Do all of my own accounting and billing
  • Answer my phone and book appointments
  • Take my own photographs
  • Make my own videos
  • Design and update my entire World Wide Web presence, in all areas, at all times
  • Tuckpoint my chimney (yes I’ve been lectured to do this myself — by my brother)
  • Make collection phone calls
  • Get and maintain credentials with insurance companies, billing and follow up

I could go on and on. My to-do list is full of things I either thought I had to do myself or was encouraged, even pressured, to learn to do on my own. When seeking help, I find there is a whole heck of a lot of really fantastic expertise and advice out there. Unfortunately, sometimes there is also this: pressure to ‘Do It Yourself’. It’s as if, every now and then, I ask someone where to go for good Chinese food, and they say “You really should learn to cook it yourself.” Uh, no.

Why is this? I think well intentioned people either think their task is so easy that everyone can and should do it, or they think they are “enabling” if they do it for you. (Yes, I’ve heard that word used by someone who must not have wanted my money. Thank goodness my hairdresser Connie “enables” me to stay dependent on her, rather than telling me to cut my own hair.)

Ironically, there is something disempowering about this. Take setting up a website. I blew nearly a year trying to learn it myself before I gave up. I took the advice of many who suggested that hiring it out was a waste of money. Oops. I should have listened to my gut, since nobody else really knows (or cares) how allergic to technology I am. And wow, Brighter Vision did a way better job than I ever could have. I love my website. In large part because people who are great at websites did it, not me. And, even though I was trying to be frugal, ultimately my efforts cost me more in money, time, and lost business. Not to mention tears and pulled out hair.

Now, my absolute ineptitude at building websites is no longer getting in the way of my real talent, which is helping people to build great relationships. Phew! Because I love doing therapy. I’d much rather be working and making money doing what I love. I’d rather be playing with my kids, reading books, or painting happy little trees.

Writer and entrepreneur Isaac Moorehouse has a great book I’ve never read. The title is enough for me. It’s called “Stop Doing Shit You Hate”. The general premise is that, when you quit doing stuff you hate (or that you just don’t WANNA do), you free up all kinds of time and energy to apply yourself to the things you love, or getting good at the things you’re bad at, but want to be good at, or doing the things you must.

We are not talking about pathological avoidance here. We are talking about the natural evolution of specialization. This happens when one guy in town decides he loves being a blacksmith, but hates baking bread.  One day he decides to trade some horseshoes for bread, and both he and the baker are happier.

I started this essay giving a much deserved nod to the wisdom of teaching a man to fish rather than giving him fish. Doing this empowers a person so they can have more freedom. This is a very important concept, and one that applies to many things in life.

But I ask you this: when was the last time you actually ate fish?

Did you catch it yourself?

I didn’t think so.

Margie Wheelhouse is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Springfield, Illinois.  She helps couples build great relationships and repair broken ones. For her thoughts on life, struggles, and relationships, check out her blog: