One of the hallmarks of sanity is knowing when to quit. But sometimes, it really does take more than one attempt to get something to work. Even simple things can require more than one try. But how do you know when to keep going and when to give up?
This question started when I woke at 4:30 AM a few mornings ago to the friendly chirp of a dying smoke alarm battery. That solution is simple, right? Take the old battery out of the smoke alarm, insert the new one, and get on with your life.
But when I took it off the ceiling, I couldn’t see anywhere at all to put a battery. I turned it over and over, peering at it from different angles. It had chirped so there was power to it somehow. I knew what I was looking for—a 9 volt battery attached to a couple wires.
Except that wasn’t what I was looking for. (That design was in the smoke alarms at a previous house…) I did not need to see a battery. I needed to see a battery compartment.
I decided I needed to change strategy. So I just looked at what was there. Doing that let me notice two extra lines perpendicular to the “seams” I was assuming were part of the construction of the base. (The surface of this area looked like the rest of the base.) Why the extra lines? Well… it wasn’t the base. It was the battery compartment. Open, remove old battery, insert the new battery, reinstall, done.
But I’ve been thinking about that battery compartment. I thought I knew exactly what I was looking for but I didn’t. So, in terms of “try…try again!” my smoke alarm taught me to check whether I am looking past what’s right in front of me because of assumptions about what it’s supposed to look like.
Then there’s the Ducktape– two rolls, one neon orange and one neon pink, the mini-sized ones for creative projects. I bought them and brought them home in a reusable bag with a lot of other stuff. They were there when I was putting everything else away.
But when I went to use them a few days later, I could not find them. I looked in the likely places three and four times. I looked in every drawer I own (and there are a lot of them). I looked in the garage. I even looked in the new luggage that I was planning to put the neon tape on to announce “not yours” to anyone who pulled it off the baggage carousel (except me).
A week later, I was back at the same store and handed the clerk the same bag. She opened it and pulled out ….two rolls of neon Ducktape. I had never taken them out of the bag. So that lessons is: when you are sure of what you’re looking for, go way beyond the obvious where.
But that was only the first part. The Ducktape amnesia provided a sweet little lesson in serendipity. I’d done an insane amount of research on what hardside suitcase to buy. Then when I brought it home, I discovered it was much bigger than I wanted. I put it against the wall in my bedroom for two weeks trying make friends with it at every opportunity. I even named it–“Bruno.” I had actually made myself comfortable with the idea that I could just fill him half full so I could lift him. Then the night before the prodigal Ducktape returned, I came across advice from a baggage handler: always pack a hardside bag full to avoid damage.
So Bruno went back to the store. That could not have happened if I’d found that Ducktape when I started looking.
The last of my little lessons involves a white knit shirt. I washed it with something I should not have. Now I have a pink knit shirt. Bummer. I had great plans for that shirt. I tried to atone by soaking it in stain remover and rewashing it, praying my stupidity would be forgiven. Nope. That one I have to give up on. I have a pink shirt. It’s going to stay a pink shirt.
Insanity has been defined as “doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result.” The answer to whether to keep trying to solve a problem is in that definition. Are you trying different things to solve it? Are you looking at it from different angles? Are you seeing what’s really there–instead of what you’re assuming is there? Can you just let it be for a bit to see if the Universe is trying to help you by not letting you solve it?
If you catch yourself doing the same thing yet again to try to solve it, it’s time to stop. But don’t quit entirely. When you’ve run out of options, it’s time to go back all the way to the beginning: Are you working on the right problem?
We do need to keep working at getting what we really want. But doing the same thing the same way again and again will get you what you’ve already been getting–which is not what you want.
Mary Lloyd is a writer and retirement coach. For more see her (still-not-updated) website www.mining-silver.com. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find out more about her books on her Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/Mary-Lloyd/e/B001KECHEW.