It’s easy to believe that many of life’s minor challenges are beyond your pay grade. But if you work the way introverts work best, you can do more than you think.
I’m not handy.
As a guy in American society, I’m not supposed to openly admit that.
But it’s true.
I should be handy. At a minimum I should be handy in the context of avoiding embarrassment: American culture—especially other men—expects handiness in me and all men.
By all rights I should be handy via osmosis, too: My own dad could fix anything, so I should be genetically predisposed to handiness.
But I’m not handy.
Or so I’ve always thought.
A Call to Be Handy—Once a Week
Lately I’ve been proving myself wrong—maybe proving myself imprecise is more precise—thanks to Cal Newport, author of the eyeopening book Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World.
“There was a time in [the United States] when most people were handy,” Newport writes:
“If you lived in a rural area, for example, you had to be comfortable fixing and building things—there was no Amazon Prime to deliver a replacement or Yelp-approved contractor to stop by with his tools.”
In my own case, if I’m faced with a household fix-it item today, I can no longer count on free rescues from my older brothers (who both live far away) or my father (who died a few years back).
I either need to call somebody in—my usual strategy—or rely on myself, my seemingly rudimentary mechanical skills, and a brain that could never tell where the shaded areas would ultimately land when you folded up the paper diagrams on those abilities tests we took in high school.
Newport goes on to issue a simple challenge to his readers: Try being handy, somehow, once a week for six weeks.
I’ve been trying.
And I’ve been succeeding—by letting myself work the way introverts work best.
The Squeaky Brake Mystery
Several months ago, I had new front brakes and rotors installed on my 2003 Saturn Vue.
After I got the car back, I immediately noticed that the brakes were making a squeaking noise—which I courageously dealt with by turning up the radio.
A few weeks ago, though, it got to be too much. So, Newport’s challenge in mind, I went on YouTube to see if I could uncover any clues.
God bless whoever “DIY Jeff ” is.
Sometimes, one of his videos noted, after you’ve had the brakes done on your car, something called the wheel shroud gets slightly bent and starts rubbing against those new rotors you’ve just spent hundreds of dollars on.
Result: a high-pitched scraping noise.
Contortion Mechanics to the Rescue
I jacked the car up, took the front left wheel off, and looked at the wheel shroud.
Actually, I listened to it as I turned it.
It … wasn’t rubbing on anything.
But I could tell that I was somewhere near the noise.
I was about to give up in the humiliation I’ve grown used to over the years when I noticed that the shroud itself had a piece of metal—I believe it’s called a doodad—attached to it.
As I turned the wheel, the doodad rubbed against the brake rotor!
So, with my bare hands no less, I bent the doodad back toward the underside of the car—Dad would have called this contortion mechanics—and the noise disappeared.
Since then I’ve gone on to diagnose and repair an actual idler pulley on an actual clothes dryer, as well as a leaky sprayer on our kitchen sink faucet.
I’m not not handy, I’ve learned.
I’m competently handy when I can work my own way, the way of the typical introvert: slowly, methodically, leveraging my ability to research solutions and focus on one thing for a long time.
Introverts Work Best Their Own Way
Is there any little mini-challenge in your life—around the house or elsewhere—that you’ve written off as a lost cause?
Is there something you no longer try to do, thinking you just don’t have it in you?
Challenge your assumptions.
Maybe it’s not that you can’t do it at all.
Maybe it’s that you can’t do it unless you work your own way.
The introvert’s way.