The year I got divorced from my first marriage was a bad one for me. My children were very young – just three and five – and just as my ex was leaving, I lost my job. Or rather, the contract I had counted on for the past 10 years lost its funding. Same outcome: I was alone, penniless, scared and feeling very, very helpless.
I enrolled in a three-week course with Employment Canada where we dealt with the grief of losing a job; got help updating our resumes; made upbeat business cards designed to focus on our best work skills; practiced doing job interviews and even met with a guidance counsellor who helped us determine our hidden strengths and figure out where to go next. It remains one of the best courses I have ever attended. Even now, over twenty years later, I still recall a great deal of the lessons we learned in that course (I wish I could say as much about the majority of university classes I attended).
There were eight people in the class and we were all floundering; all immersed in our very real-life crises and trauma. Our instructor was amazing: she not only helped us focus on our job skills and attributes; she helped each and every one of us find and focus on the positive – including the positive in ourselves. One fellow in our class was the classic Eeyore (the morose donkey from Winnie-the-Pooh): he only spoke if he had something negative to say. After a few days, our instructor gave him a challenge: “I want you to start a gratitude journal,” she told him. “At the end of each day, you must find five positive things to write, and then share them with the class the following morning.” He was not amused, but reluctantly complied. The next morning, when prompted, he gave a long sigh and slowly dragged his journal out of his carryall. “Well,” he began unenthusiastically, “My dog didn’t die.” The entire class cracked up as he sheepishly grinned at the ridiculousness of his statement. Our instructor nonetheless encouraged him to read his five positive statements every single morning and by the end of the three-week course, after he had fired off five incredibly upbeat and positive statements about his previous day, we gave him a standing ovation. Many of us – himself included – had tears in our eyes.
My own challenge from this same instructor was to be more self-sufficient. I was on my own now; no man was going to sweep in on a white horse and rescue me. I would have to rescue myself. One of our tasks was to purchase – if we didn’t already have one – an answering machine. During the class, we were instructed to come up with an upbeat answer to record on our machine; something that would impress any potential employer calling our homes with an offer to interview us for our dream job. We read them aloud to one another, practicing not just reading the message but also the tone and energy the message should convey.
I went out that day – directly after class – and bought the simplest, least expensive answering machine I could afford. I brought it home, took it out of the bag, laid it on the counter and…looked at it. For hours, it sat there, mocking me. I had done as instructed and bought it. I had a piece of paper with my ‘perfect’ message just waiting to be recorded. All I needed was for someone to knock on the door and offer to set up the answering machine for me. I felt completely helpless: I had never really ‘fixed’ anything; had never set anything up. I had always considered those sorts of things ‘a guy job’.
By early evening, the answering machine had still not miraculously set itself up. It was still waiting, inert and (by now) a little disdainful, on the counter. And that’s when it occurred to me: had I still been with my ex, that answering machine would have stayed there in its packaging for months while I got angrier and angrier that he wasn’t doing the ‘man’ thing and getting it set up. You see, he had never been very good about setting things up either. I wondered then, why I used to get so exasperated with him if I was no better. What exactly was I waiting for?
At that point, I approached the counter and slowly opened the packaging. I noted that there was a little set of assembly directions, which I set aside, close by, where I could refer to them. I carefully set out each piece of the answering machine on the counter and then checked the instructions to see if any pieces were missing. I noted that the directives said I would have to attach all of this to my phone. I therefore sought – and found – the corresponding plug-in on my telephone wall unit. I located the notes for the message I was to record. And presto – within minutes, I was done. I had an answering machine! I was ready to receive calls from potential employers! And – HOLY COW – I had done it all by myself.
To say that I strutted around the house is a gross understatement. Had I developed string theory, I could not have been prouder of myself. Do you remember Tom Hanks, building that fire on the beach in the movie Castaway? Well that was me. I felt ten feet tall! I felt strong! I felt brilliant! Suddenly I understood that I was perfectly capable of taking care of many, many things all by myself. It was one of the most supremely powerful moments of my life.
Since that day, I have put together a great many desks, bookshelves and various kits (not too many more answering machines though; they have since become obsolete). When something breaks, before I call a repair company, I first take a close look to see if it is a simple thing that I can fix on my own. I should add that currently, the love of my life never helps with these sorts of things: by his own admission, he can barely screw in a light bulb. He is perfectly fine leaving the ‘fixing and assembling’ to me…
That’s okay; I’ve got this…
Patti Moore Wilson/© wednesdayschildca.wordpress.com