You would think a garage sale wouldn’t be difficult to figure out. You prepare a little, you advertise, you put things on card tables, you wait. I’ve been wanting to help my son set up a garage sale of a lot of things he’s outgrown, where he could be in charge and receive the profits, but I’ve been stopped by the idea that I can’t. I live in a fairly rural area, on a dirt road that doesn’t get any traffic. I’ve been held up by this idea that we should have a garage sale, but I don’t know how to set it up so that people will actually come.
I was thinking about the garage sale this morning and once I really turned my attention to it, I realized the idea that I didn’t know how to make it work was ridiculous. We will either have a garage sale or we won’t. If we do, we’ll either have it here or have it somewhere else. If we have it somewhere else, we just have to figure what lucky friend is going to get us taking over their porch or garage soon, and ask permission. The only reason I’ve been thinking “I don’t know how” is because I haven’t been wanting to face it. Garage sales take preparation, which I don’t feel like I have time for, and they last a whole day, which I definitely don’t have time for, and what if no one shows up and all of the effort is wasted and we still have the things left over? It’s not that I don’t know how to do it, it’s that the idea has been making me anxious. Dealing with anxiety has a lot to do with facing things and answering questions. A few simple answers sorted my situation out. We should have the sale, because my son will enjoy earning the money and will learn about money from it, and because we need the room the old things are taking up, and because it’s a waste to have them here if we can get them to someone who will actually use them. We should have it here so that he can mind the sale and I can do the other things I need to do, checking in with him regularly. And we’ll attract traffic as well as we can by putting signs out on the main road right near us, which will probably give us more custom than we would get in a suburban neighborhood.
Your something may not be as easy to figure out, but there are several useful ways to do something you don’t know how to do. So, what are they?
1. If you really can’t do it, move on
If you really have no way of accomplishing the task in front of you, even after reading the rest of this article, then the problem isn’t doing the task: if you honestly can’t do it, then it’s not your responsibility. Instead, the problem is facing the inevitable consequences of not doing it. This requires a difficult but powerful tool: surrendering to reality.
The same situation applies if the only way you can do the thing in question is to not do something more important. For example, if the only weekend we could do the garage sale was the only opportunity we’d get for some time to see family members visiting the area, then we’d need to give up on the garage sale. Fortunately, there are often more options than there seem to be at first, which is what the rest of the article is about.
2. You don’t have to do it if it doesn’t need to be done
Sometimes we resist doing things because they really don’t make sense for us to do. If it were for me instead of my son, I probably wouldn’t have the garage sale at all, because the amount of money it brought in wouldn’t justify the time. Instead I’d donate everything to a local recycle shop, which would sell the items to lower-income people for very affordable prices. If you feel concerned about how you’re going to tackle a problem, make sure first that it makes sense for you to do it at all before you start worrying about how.
3. Do it differently if there’s a better way
Sometimes difficult problems become much easier if they’re approached in an unexpected way. If you have something you’re worried about doing, consider whether there are other approaches you could take that would simplify things. If my son had a few major items and otherwise mostly things that would sell for next to nothing, he could sell the major items on eBay or Craigslist, still learning about money and reaping the rewards, and we could give the rest away to the recycle shop.
4. If it can wait, improve your position and then do it
Some tasks need improved skills before they can be done well, in which case a combination of practice and patience will put you in a much better position to get the thing done, provided it can wait. Keep in mind that research overwhelmingly supports the idea that practically anyone of at least average intelligence can excel at almost anything if they get in enough deliberate practice. If I were worried my son wouldn’t do a good job of running the sale, we could spend some time doing pretend sales and finding educational computer games about buying and selling to help him learn. We’d have to decide whether the sale was worth the effort and whether we could wait that long to get the unneeded things out of the house, but it’s possible the effort spent learning about money would be more than worthwhile.
Other tasks benefit from a change in situation. If I were going to move in the near future to a location that’s better for a garage sale, I might store the sale items away and have the sale there once we’d moved.
5. If it would work better with help, get help
Sometimes a little advice or active assistance from a friend, family member, mentor, or even a hired professional can go a long way. This might be as simple as getting a better idea of the task from someone who’s done it already, or as involved as finding and hiring a business manager for your new venture if you’re great at the core activity of the business but not so great at marketing, accounting, and the other general business tasks. For example, I probably have friends who have things they’d want to sell too, and a two- or three-family garage sale might attract more people.
6. If it works best to do it now, just do it the best you can
If it needs to be done, if there aren’t good alternatives, if others can’t really help, and if it’s best to do it now (due to ongoing problems, limited opportunity, a deadline, etc.), then you’re in the same place I was: face things and provide answers. If you don’t know the answers to the questions, get the best information you can and answer them as well as you can. If you’re having trouble facing things, it’s probably due to broken ideas, which means it’s fixable.
7. If you know what to do but don’t feel motivated, get in touch with your reasons
Of course, it might be that when you think about it, you realize you really do know how to tackle this goal, and it really is an important one, but you don’t feel inspired to get in motion. If that’s the case, it can help a lot to get in touch with your real reasons for accomplishing the goal. If they’re someone else’s reasons, or if you’re just trying to fulfill expectations or fit some role, then it may be that it’s not such a good goal for you after all. But if the reasons are your own, get in touch with them: write down what made you decide to do the thing in the first place, or visualize what it will be like to do it–or to have gotten it done.
Regardless of what approach you take, remember that “I have to but I can’t” is a logical impossibility. If there’s really no way to do it, you’re off the hook: no one can make you do something you truly can’t do. If there is a way to do it, all you have to do is figure out whether you’re going to decide to, and if so what the best way is. There’s not always a good way, but there is always at least one best way. I hope you find yours. As for me, I have to help my son go sort through some old toys.
Photo by m.gifford