My wife and I have different roles in our house. If something is lost, my wife finds it. She has this amazing ability to know where things are or should be. When my kids or I are looking for a lost item, she’ll think logically about the last place she saw something or consider when that item was used last and use that knowledge to find it. She’s a finder.
In contrast, I’m the fixer in the family. If there’s a broken switch or a handle that needs to be replaced, I’ll pull out my toolbox and fix it. I don’t know if my wife finds joy in finding things, but I always find joy in fixing something that isn’t working correctly. When we first moved into our house twenty years ago, the house was in such a state of disrepair that so many things needed to be fixed. My wife and I had a running list of things that needed to be repaired and I’d work in the evenings and weekends to fix them. Now, twenty years later, most of the things in our house have been repaired, but I’m still the fixer in the family.
Or at least I have been. I’m reconsidering that role lately. To be clear, I’m not abdicating my fixing responsibilities or anything. I’m just becoming more aware of my other roles, too. Let me explain.
I was listening to ReThinking with Adam Grant recently. In the episode, Adam was interviewing soccer champion and podcaster, Abby Wambach. During the interview, Abby discussed how her spouse often tries to fix things, even when she doesn’t need the help. Abby explained her reaction to this tendency.
“If you jump in and try to solve this problem, what you’re doing is you’re stealing my work. We all have issues that come up, right, and people are there, but for the most part, we have to figure this stuff out ourselves. Like, the problem exists for you personally to figure out. If somebody else comes in and swoops in, they’re taking the learning from you.”
That last sentence has been bouncing around in my head for the last week or so. “They’re taking the learning from you.” As a teacher, one of my mantras is whoever does the work does the learning. Learning isn’t a spectator sport. To learn, a person has to roll up their sleeves and get to work. That belief can run counter to my role as a fixer, though. If I solely fix the problems, am I “stealing the work” from someone else? Am I “taking the learning” from them? While I find joy in fixing things, am I depriving others from experiencing that joy themselves? That’s not something I want to do.
As a teacher, I want to create environments where others can learn. At times, that’s going to mean standing back and letting other people figure things out on their own. So, while I find joy in fixing things, I find more joy in helping people learn things. And helping people learn sometimes might mean not helping at all.