I Can Do It Myself!

Bet you said that when you were two years old. And five. And ten. And maybe 70. Most of us take pride in our competence, or strength, and our know-how,whether it is tying one’s shoes (before Velcro), fixing one’s faucet, or making a garden grow. We enjoy using our powers to take care of ourselves and others. As we grow older we gain strength and skills, but somewhere between 60 and 80, our physical ability to perform those tasks becomes more limited with declining vision, hearing, and physical stamina and strength.

As I approach 80, I look forward to the end of my mowing days, either by replacing my last patch of lawn with ground cover or paying someone else to do it. Many of my friends and neighbors are more enthusiastic about offloading chores than I am. The service sector has grown immensely to serve that preference in recent decades. You don’t have to wash your own car, cook your own meals, pay your own bills, walk or bath your own dog. (Full disclosure: my neighbor Anne fixed my faucet while showing me how to do it, and my dog always went to the groomer because I couldn’t manage to bath a 55 pound dog.) I have also concluded that it is probably a good idea to pay someone else to change the furnace filer in the ceiling so that I don’t have to climb a ladder, look up, unscrew the cover in order to exchange filters..

Maybe the Myers-Briggs scale needs another pair of Letters, MY, for Me do it or You do it. In fairness to my aging neighbors, there are increasing limitations on our abilities to do certain things as we get older and have to cope with impaired vision and hearing, arthritis, balance problems, and heath issues. We old folks are faced with a continuous series of choices about what we try to manage for ourselves and what we turn over to others as we cycle away from the autonomy of adolescence and adulthood back to more dependence on help from others.

I’ve been an M most of my life. I think my “M-ness” comes from a frugal New England upbringing. I prefer to do my own house and yard work , and I was raised to make my own clothes (I’ve given that one up!) and cook my own meals (I am open to compromise on that one). But I have to admit that just because I can do something, it doesn’t mean that I can do it as well or as quickly as someone who specializes in that particular kind of work.

Part of my “I can do it myself!” attitude is a desire to stay connected to my habitat–to clean my own floors, wash my own windows, weed my own flower beds, prune my now shrubs. On the other hand, I have an inner Y that reminds me that there is someone out there who can do a better job of painting my walls, troubleshooting my computer, and mulching my former front lawn (see my earlier blog, My War on Grass). I have always enjoyed practicing and honing my own skills as a teacher, writer, preacher, organizational leader and policy analyst.But fragmenting myself among many tasks means that few of them get treated with the respect and attention needed to perform them well. At the same time, I notice the pride others take in their skills such as painting, landscaping, gardening, and getting my computer humming smoothly along. Anyone who can earn a living doing something they enjoy and are good at deserves to have that opportunity. ‘

Me-do and You-do are, of course, not mutually exclusive. Most of us don’t have the means to live like ancient aristocrats (or modern billionaires) with an army of servants to relieve them of the daily chores of living. And some of us are grateful that we don’t! Most of us are neither very rich or very poor, so we have to make choices about how to spend our money, our time, and our energy, and outsource some of those tasks. Each of us needs to assess our skills, our abilities (which change over the decades), and the other uses for our time in choosing which tasks to do ourselves and which ones to outsource–and why.