A few days ago my son broke his dart gun. The thing cost $5 (maybe) and had already been taped when cracks first appeared months ago.
He handed me two pieces of cheap plastic and one simple question – “can you fix it?” – while my wife and I were talking to a friend. I turned them over in my hands and chuckled at the fact that he had asked me to fix this flimsy toy. Any normal person would just go buy a new one. Maybe even a better one. But I guess he’d seen me jimmy rig enough things in his life that he thought there was hope for this item as well.
Sure enough, a few minutes later there was a diagram in my head about where I could drill a hole here, thread a zip-tie through there, and maybe reinforce with some glue.
Welp, it worked.
Later that evening I remembered the wheel on our garbage dumpster. It had broken off a couple years before but had still been usable until more recently when something else had jarred loose. Now it struggled to make the round trip to the curb and back.
With dart gun blue prints filed away, my brain started on a solution to the garbage can wheel. The axle had a groove, the wheel had enough plastic for drilling, and I imagined that a few screws would keep the wheel in place.
This worked as well.
When I look around our house I see a handful of random solutions like this.
- A zip line replacement seat made out of an old leash
- A new rain gauge holder made of scrap wood
- An old compost barrel repaired with a ratchet strap
In so many ways this trail of duct-tape solutions is completely silly. We have plenty of money to buy a length of chain or new rain gauge stand or compost barrel. And each of these solutions would hold up infinitely better than my versions.
There’s just one thing.
Solving problems? It’s kinda my jam.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself and my brain, it’s that I seem to be at my best when I’m solving problems. At times it feels almost natural, like a reflex rather than a conscious choice. I’ll encounter some conundrum and, in a few seconds, have a decent direction to start heading that, more often than not, turns out to be solid. Whether it’s work, side projects, toys, travel plans, code, church, or relationships, my brain latches onto problems and doesn’t like to stop until it’s found a solution.
I don’t know why I’m writing about this other than writing helps me better understand myself and the ideas in my head. In this case, trying to organize these ideas has reminded me of some downsides. The problems of being a problem solver.
Like the times at work where I’ve wasted hours trying to solve a problem instead of spending $20 on a tool that could do it in seconds.
Or the times where, when talking with someone and some random unsolved problem comes up, I’ll mentally check out mid-conversation and start mentally piecing together a solution – smiling and nodding while my brain cranks away.
And man, having a big problem on the brain doesn’t exactly help me fall asleep at night.
Each of those things is something I’ve slowly learned about myself and, once that realization clicks, makes it easier to improve in the future. And that’s exactly what I’m trying to do; not let this upside be a downside of being Gregg. Which actually isn’t as tricky as I thought.
Because, after all, forgetting to listen to the person you’re talking to? That sounds like a problem…
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