Why do people stop trying new stuff?
One grey morning this past May I sat staring out the window at a white van parked outside. At the words “Wet Woof” in big letters on the side. Our retriever pup Penny was inside getting a wash and nail clipping and ear cleaning and scissors-trim. The Wet Woof guy is busy; we were thrilled that a slot opened up for us.
The van had its own bathtub, its own water supply. You could hear the compressor running out there.
Suddenly the absurdity of the situation hit me. We have a bathtub here in the house. We have indoor plumbing. How hard is it to give a dog a bath? To trim her nails? Why wasn’t I doing it? Too busy? Seriously?
The real reason is, I’m not confident I know how. I’d give her a ridiculous haircut. I might puncture something in her ear.
There came to me, on that cold day, the bracing middle-age realization that this is what it had come to. I was living my life in a spectrum as thin as a dime. Just meeting deadlines and wrangling the kids and keeping meals on the table was taking all the RAM I had. I’d pretty much stopped trying anything new.
And what happens when you stop doing new things is, after awhile you start thinking you can’t do them. Soon you’ve got a lot of “experts” shuffling around on the property, doing the things you should be doing, living the parts of your life you should be living — the “inessential” parts. Read: the fun bits.
Pet grooming? Come on. This is not plasma physics. Surely there are YouTube videos. Probably this is skill that could be adequately learned in a day. And then I’d have it in the bank, and we’d never have to call Wet Woof again.
Without a conscious effort, people tend to calcify into old patterns as they grow older. Studies show that “openness” — that is, receptivity to new ideas, and one of the Big Five personality traits considered the pillars of our identity (that is, they aren’t dependent on mood) — tends to decline with age. In the bargain, the bubbles we encircle ourselves in — our “disclosive spaces,” in the jargon — tend to shrink, making us less likely to venture into other people’s experiences. Our lives end up becoming narrower than they need to be. To me, that’s reason enough to devote some Big Days to trying things. It’s like accounting for the increasingly ugly slice that has kept into your golf drive. Odds are very good that you’re going to put it to the right, so you aim left. You deliberately compensate for what you observe yourself becoming.
Learning to wash the dog isn’t going to change my life or anybody else’s. But developing the habit of having a hack at something yourself, before calling in a “guy” to do it, just might.
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