Just Do It

Just Do It

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Be The Best You Can Be

Just Do It

No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.

~Charles Dickens

As a preteen, I was pretty lazy when it came to “doing” for my family. I worked hard at school, did tons of homework, practiced for piano lessons, and sometimes babysat my younger sister. Still, I found myself regularly resisting the urge to help out at home with even the simplest things.

If my mother or father asked me to do something, I would do it: not a problem. But the fact that I always needed to be asked or told to do things — things I could plainly see needed doing — undoubtedly bugged my parents. What Mom and Dad didn’t realize, though, was that by age ten my resistance to chipping in even bugged me!

For a long time, I wasn’t bothered enough to actually do anything about it. But my guilty conscience — knowing I could and should do more for my folks, and not just when asked — led me to feel pretty bad about myself.

Every Wednesday afternoon, for example, my mother drove me to another town for a piano lesson. During my half-hour lesson, she’d rush to the nearby grocery store and buy a week’s worth of groceries. Given the fact that my mom had just driven me twelve miles there, twelve miles back, paid for my lesson, and bought me a candy bar, you’d think I’d be grateful and gracious enough to help her bring the groceries into the house without being asked. But I wasn’t.

I knew I should help her. But with homework weighing heavily on my mind — and with “me” still the center of my universe — I generally just brought in an armload and left the rest for Mom as I ran to my room, shut the door, and started studying.

Don’t get me wrong: being conscientious about school is a good thing, and I know my parents appreciated my hard work and good grades. But the thing is, even holed up in my room, I still felt guilty about not helping my mother more. Sure, I had work to do — but she’d worked all day, too! And after hauling in those bags, and putting the food away, Mom still had to whip up a tasty dinner for the five of us. Small wonder I felt guilty.

A similar situation occurred on summer weekends as my family headed north to our rustic lakeside cabin. Each of us kids was expected to pack our own basket of clothes and toys, carry it to the car and, later, bring it inside the camp. But besides our individual baskets, that station wagon was always jam-packed with coolers, camp gear, and bags of food. Once again — if asked — I’d help carry in everything else. But if left to my own devices, I was much more apt to dump my basket inside, then head outdoors to explore the woods. Exploring trumped helping every time.

Exploring is a good thing, sure, and it turned me into a lifelong naturalist. But my “not helping” was gradually becoming a bigger and bigger problem for me because in my heart and my head I knew I was skirting responsibility — not to mention, it obviously made my parents cranky to have to continually ask for my help.

Deep down I wanted to change my ways. But I also realized that once I did change, there’d be no going back. Once I took on more responsibilities, my parents would start expecting more of me. At age ten, I sensed that this one small change would mark the start of something far bigger: my personal transition from a cared-for, semi-spoiled child to a more mature, responsible, caring and giving young person.

I’ll never forget the Wednesday I made a conscious decision to jump in and see what happened. Returning home from my lesson, I disappeared into my room, as usual. But once inside, I felt that deep and burning shame. Dumping my schoolbooks and music on the bed, I abruptly opened my door and headed back to the garage to help my mother.

I’m sure Mom thanked me that day, but her thanks are not what I remember. What I remember most is the incredible sense of peace and satisfaction I felt after helping her. Working hard at school always made me feel good. But what surprised me that day was how happy I felt just helping my mom — all on my own.

At the time, I imagine Mom wondered: “Is this a one-time deal or will Wendy help me again next week?”

Unknown to her, I’d already vowed to pitch in every single Wednesday — and from that day on, I did. It was such a small action. Yet what a nice little difference it made in my mom’s life! And what a huge difference it made in mine. The selfishness and guilt I’d struggled with for so long suddenly vanished, replaced by a warm glow of pride.

As for those summer treks to the lake, ditto! Instead of just carrying my own stuff, I began returning to the car for more loads — even when my father was in a really grouchy “long week at work” mood. The first time I did it, Dad probably wondered the same thing as Mom: “Is this a one-time deal?”

But over time, I showed my sincerity by continuing to help out with the loading and unloading. The neat thing was, the more I helped out, the better I felt about myself and my place within my family. As Mom and Dad realized they could count on me more, our trips became far less stressful, too. In short, it was a win-win situation for everyone.

Sometimes the little things we put off doing the longest turn out to be the simplest things to accomplish. Helping out more — and offering to help rather than waiting to be asked — made my parents and me a lot happier. And feeling happy trumps feeling guilty any day.

~Wendy Hobday Haugh

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