Confidence comes from knowing you can get shit done.
When I was in my 20s, I lived alone in New York, in a tiny studio apartment. Aside from a few sporadic, months-long relationships, I was mostly single, so when things broke, I just took care of it.
Of course, I could always call the super for big problems, and I’d call my brother if I needed strong arms to help me carry an air conditioning unit up the four flights of stairs. But on a day-to-day basis, I was the one tightening the bolts on the fire escape safety gate. I was the one reigniting the pilot light on the ancient stove. I was the one hanging pictures and putting together a nightstand. I was the one who grabbed a frying pan, ready to get cartoon-violent, when some drunken neighbor was banging on my door at 3am.
My fresh-out-of college income barely covered my expenses. But I was still able to pay all of my bills, and whittle down my college loans, without extra help from my parents. Sometimes, I ate cereal and cans of tuna for dinner, but I was able to make New York-living work on what were, initially, meager paychecks.
Does it sound like I’m bragging? Oh, I am.
It’s because I’m proud. I’m proud that I was able to take such good care of myself. It was a great freaking feeling.
Because even when I felt unattractive, even when I felt lonely, even when I questioned my choices, I still knew that I was able to manage my own life. I knew that I was capable, that I could get things done. And that gave me more confidence than any new outfit, new guy, or job promotion ever could.
I’ve always been sort of good at fixing things, good at learning how things works. I actually take some pleasure in figuring out how to put stuff together. I get fulfillment in the puzzle solved.
Now that I have kids, I’ve adopted even more of a can-do attitude, especially because my husband travels…and I’m apparently very impatient. I don’t want to wait for him to get home to fix a toy or put a new one together. I don’t want to call him to figure out why our Roku isn’t working, while the kids are frantically screaming for Caillou.
No, Mama needs to take care of business herself. And I do.
Last week, I went in to get my 3-year-old twins up from their nap and discovered that they had somehow broken their window shade. Could I have asked my husband to fix it when he got home from work? Sure, but why? It’s not like he knew any more about roller shades than I did. So, I made my sons sit there and watch as I got out the tools, took down the shade, and went to work. I had to examine the other window, figure out how to get the ball chain back in the clutch (I looked up that terminology, by the way), and make sure the length on the chain was right. It took me about 45 minutes, but I did it—no husband or handyman required.
And when I was done, I made sure my boys understood that Mommy had just fixed their blinds by myself. Not Daddy. Me. I needed to remind them that Mommy is handy too and that I’m the one who puts together a lot of their toys and furniture and ride-along cars.
Yes, it was definitely a little bit of overkill on the message. But I wanted them to understand, even at this young age, that women can be the fixers and the doers and the ones they turn to when they need help, and not just the emotional kind. My little boys will one day be men, and I want them to know that the women they meet will be just as capable, maybe even more so, than they are.
It means something to me as their mom because it’s always meant something to me as a woman. Being capable. How can a woman really be independent if she always has to ask others, mostly men, for help? How can a woman feel truly confident if she doesn’t try to do things that may be challenging? How can a woman feel like, well, a grown woman, if she’s leaning too much on others?
A woman is only helpless if she allows herself to be. She only becomes capable when she realizes she can do many things for herself, and decides to try. My parents always encouraged me to stand on my own two feet. They taught me that there’s value in taking on a task, however difficult, and seeing it through. They taught me that I can do anything I put my mind to and, so, I put my mind to things. I worry about the overprotected, helicopter-parented kids—are they ever going to get a chance to prove to themselves that they’re capable too?
The reality is that no matter how smart you are, no matter how beautiful, no matter how many advanced degrees, it all means nothing if you freeze up when a pipe bursts or an appliance breaks or your car stalls out. You have to know how to deal, even if it means just knowing the right person to call.
For women, I believe that there’s no greater pride than realizing that you, and you alone, are capable of getting shit done.
Jennifer Benjamin is an LA-based freelance writer and editor with over thirteen years of experience writing for national magazines and websites like Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, SELF, Parents Magazine, The Stir and Daily Glow. More important, she’s a Mommy to identical twin boys, as well as an avid cook, a terrible housewife, and a loungewear enthusiast. Find her on Twitter @JennyBenjamin or Facebook.