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Aug 24, 2016 03:23PM

'You're doing it wrong': Replace inner dialog with 'Yes, I can!'

By Annie L. Scholl
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Somewhere along the line, I developed a fear of doing things wrong. Maybe it was sparked while holding a flashlight for my dad so he could work under the hood of a car. "Can't you even hold a flashlight right?" he barked in his frustration, which probably was more about what was wrong with the car than what was wrong with me.

It might have been reinforced by my mother's gentler, "Honey, just let me do it," when I was attempting to sew a dress, bake a pie or one of her other specialties. What I took from that wasn't that she didn't have time or energy to teach me (she didn't she was raising six kids). Instead, the message I got was I was doing it wrong and couldn't possibly do it as well as she could.

For sure, I was sensitive, and I did my best to avoid being scolded or criticized. But the overriding feeling I've had well into adulthood is that surely someone else could do it better than me so, why try?

Through the years, I've hired out clothing alterations, painting jobs and other home-improvement projects instead of doing them myself. As a young bride, I called my brother to install a new ceiling fan instead of taking a chance my then-husband would do it wrong and burn down the house.

This fear of doing things wrong didn't keep me from going to college. It hasn't hampered me (much) in my writing career. It hasn't kept me from doing what some might see as "big and brave" things, such as skydiving, hot-air ballooning or living alone in a remote cabin in Colorado.

But it has kept me from tackling the seemingly ordinary: Painting a room. Hemming a pair of pants. Baking a pie.

"What if I do it wrong?" But I didn't sit in that question long enough to see that the answer was never cataclysmic. It was, after all, just a room, a pair of pants, a pie. Instead, if it required skills or knowledge I didn't already have, I often convinced myself I couldn't do it.

Through the past six years, I've worked to change these stories I've told myself about myself. I've painted rooms albeit painstakingly slow so I can no longer say I can't paint.

If I was afraid about doing something, I knew that was the thing I must attempt to do. So, I repaired window screens, thanks to training by my brother-in-law. When it was time to repaint our old mailbox and apply new house numbers, I marveled when I actually could.

Most recently, I turned to YouTube to learn how to redo a stone patio so I could put down landscape fabric and discourage weed growth. I moved out all of the stones and weeded as I went, creating a pattern in the grass so I would know where the stones went.

Once the area was clear, I cut and laid the landscape fabric and moved the rocks back just as the videos had instructed.

Up until this point, I had no fear of the project. It was hard work, but it wasn't impossible. I had even listened to the woman at the landscape center who suggested I use crushed rock instead of sand. (The latter, she said, would host weeds again and/or wash away.)

So, with my stones situated on the landscape fabric, I shoveled the crushed rock on top and planned to sweep the stones so the crushed rock went between them, not on top of them. Instead, I was left with an uneven mess. I was close to crying as that familiar voice rose up inside of me: You did this wrong. You should have hired this out.

After about a half hour of chastising myself, I calmed down. My neighbor stopped over and confirmed what I suspected: I had to remove the rocks again if I wanted it to look good and even. I watched as he cleared out and worked on a small section. Following his example, I worked into the night and again the next day.

Technically, I did this wrong, initially. But in the end, I did it right. Very right.

Now, in this beautiful space, I have a visual reminder of what can happen when I push through the fear and try something new.

Annie L. Scholl is a frequent Radish contributor.

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