Tools to remember

I’ve been thinking a lot about tools. Every once in a while, I look back and notice how much my relationship to them has changed. 

As a child, the only family outings I remember dreading were visits to the hardware store. To a seven- or eight-year-old girl, a warehouse full of tools didn’t just pale in comparison to the toy store or the candy store; for some odd reason, I found them painfully boring. (Never mind that practically everything around me—including toy and candy stores—existed in part because of tools!) The closest I ever came to enjoying these visits was the day I discovered an isle packed with rolls of pink fiberglass insulation. Maybe it was the Pink Panther on the label, or layer upon layer of fluffy goodness inviting me to dive right in; whatever it was, my delight was but momentary: I learned the hard, itchy way that fiberglass insulation is not cotton candy.

I bought my first tool in college; it was a Phillips screwdriver. I bought it because I needed it; the showerhead in my first apartment was long overdue for some minor repairs. Doing this small chore, aided by the use of my new tool, filled me with a sense of accomplishment and gratitude for tools I’d never experienced before. My visits to the hardware store were forever changed.

My appreciation for tools has grown as my life and projects have become more complex. In fact, a couple of years ago, I bought my first set of power tools on my birthday. These tools are great—they’re there every time I need them, making my work easier and far more efficient.

In looking back through my little box of recollections, I never thought to think of tools in relationship to vision. I owe this opportune learning to an essay by Keith Raniere—a short essay packed with tools of a different kind.

You see, if I were a carpenter, the tools from a hardware store would have a very different place in my life, simply because they would serve my vision. And, were I so lucky to have found my calling as a carpenter during childhood, those particular family outings would have been precious and irreplaceable. (Incidentally, they are!) But the reality is I’m not a carpenter, and if I related with tools as if I were a carpenter—stowing them at work, at home, in my car, in my bag—not only would they be of little or no use to me: they’d get in the way of my doing what I want to do.

Have you ever acquired a tool that promised to be the best thing ever, your very own eighth wonder of the world? Perhaps you saw yourself charging into your future endeavor, armed with your vision and this tool by your side—this best ally and aid… but something happened, and before long the tool was simply collecting dust in a dark, forgotten place.

What happened? Did the tool suddenly lose all its worth? Was its usefulness absorbed into some void all of a sudden?

I imagine one of three things happen when we do this: One, we fail to appropriately evaluate or understand the tool as it relates to our vision, thereby mistaking it for something else. Two, we change our vision after we acquire the tool, so it no longer serves us. Or three, we deny our vision and, in so doing, deny the rightful place the tool has in our lives. By dimming this light—the light of our vision—we inadvertently create the dark, forgotten place wherein our tools will be and eventually whither away.

I’ve certainly experienced all three things, and have had no trouble admitting the first two. It’s the third one I’ve struggled with; I suspect a lot of people do too.

Denial is a curious thing—let it stand long enough and it starts to resemble forgetfulness. But unless you change your vision entirely, you never forget it. Sometimes it seems the whole universe is trying to remind you of it, but usually it’s the people who care about you. They know, they don't forget: “Hey, look at all of these carpentry tools! Why are they in here? It’s so dusty… achoo! So why aren’t you using them?...”

Instead of reclaiming what is ours, our vision, what do we do? There’s a number of ways of dealing with those who remind us of this: avoid them, snap at them, shrug it off, run away—you name it. Unfortunately, if at this point we opt for denial, we leave ourselves only one way of dealing with the tools: damn them. After all, it’s easier to say they’re worthless, or worse, to say they don’t work at all, than to acknowledge an act of self-abandon in the most negligent way.

Poor tools. 

I believe it was Marianne Williamson who wrote, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

Maybe one of the hardest things we ever do is recapture this light, our vision: embrace it, honor it, fully commit.

Scary? Yes. Luckily, there are tools to help with this too.