Handiwork and Hardiness: Building Resilience One Knot at a Time

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My parents worked with their heads rather than their hands. Fixing a leaky faucet or jazzing up the walls with a splash of color were tasks they’d outsource to friends—like Al, my father’s entrepreneurial engineer, or my granddad Phil, who was a skilled craftsman,

I inherited that same self-assumed ‘clumsiness’—believing I was all thumbs and no finesse. This weekend, however, I had an epiphany about my ability to work with my hands, one that could lead me down the aisles of Lowe’s with a newfound purpose, once again showing how resilience plays out in our daily lives.

The geese of our riverside community are a familiar sight. They bring year-long beauty to our Allegheny River’s banks but leave less pleasant gifts on our lawns. My neighbor, a surgeon by trade, innovated a simple yet effective barrier to their access to our yards using fishing lines as fencing. I was his assistant, threading lines and securing ends.

My first attempts were embarrassingly inadequate and painstakingly slow compared to his. He moved with the ease of someone with actual talent, based on his skills at tying off sutures following surgery.

When we ran out of the fishing line, I offered to get a new spool and headed off to the store. When I returned, I took a shot at finishing what remained of our fence, focusing on perfecting my knots without thinking, “I don’t do this very well.” Instead, I told myself that I would get better with each effort.

Soon, my knots became more accessible, and I tightened the fence line securely. Now, I was having fun, seeing how smoothly and efficiently my hands worked. Later that day, my neighbor came by to look at my handiwork and joked about how my newfound skills might be worthy of my appearance in his operating room.

This experience sprang a broader lesson for me, echoed in the wisdom of my coach, Alan Weiss, who often quips about his amazement at how stupid he was two weeks ago.

 This knot-tying victory isn’t a big deal, but it shows how we can master skills if we use the resilience inherent in my learning process. When people ask me about the one thing they can do to strengthen their resilience, I always tell them it is how we think about ourselves and our lives.

It reminds me that with each challenge faced, there’s an opportunity to emerge more capable and adaptable. While I may have started with all thumbs, those thumbs turned out to be able to learn something new.

In every endeavor, the resilience to keep tying knots—even the ones that are hard to do, makes for a continuous learning journey.

© Richard Citrin , 2024

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