We need the right tools in life

“The best years of your life are the ones in which you decide your problems are your own. You do not blame them on your mother or the ecology. You realize that you control your own destiny.” —Albert Ellis

What are the most important tools ever invented? According to Forbes magazine in a 2006 story, the list includes the knife, abacus, compass, pencil, harness, rifle, sword, eyeglasses, saw, watch, needle, candle, telescope, fish hook and chisel.

(The entire list can be found in the forbes.com Web site archives.)

The story was aptly titled, “The 20 Most Important Tools Ever,” and was compiled by a bunch of experts who know a lot about stuff like this. Or something like that.

All the items on the list have one thing in common: they are designed to do what they do. They’re not Swiss army knives. They’re pencils for writing. They’re eyeglasses for seeing. They’re knives for cutting. Each of “the most important tools ever” does one job only. And does it perfectly.

As people, we need these types of tools—except for the abacus and maybe the sword, I’m just not sure we need these anymore—but we don’t tend to function in the same way. Instead, we multi-task, do things we need to, want to, don’t necessarily want to but do anyway, and run circles to tackle the should-have-already-dones.

So, as I get older, wiser, relapse and then get it together again, I learn a thing or two. When life takes a turn in a direction you’d rather not see it go, you have a minimum of two choices. One, fight it. Two, don’t.

Either way, you’re entering battle. If you choose to fight it, the battle will be long. If you choose to not fight it, the battle will be long. But I’d lay my cards on pushing through it any day. Eventually, if you open yourself up to the circumstances and pound directly through the densest parts, you will, no doubt by the grace of God, find your way to another side.

As life takes us in and out of the tough parts, the ones we’d just as soon tuck away into a deep dark closet, we are actually living out those applicable quotes. That’s when we see that the worst things make us stronger. When we’re stronger, we’re more aware. Being more aware makes us more complete.

Jimmy Valvano, the legendary college basketball coach who died of cancer in 1993, said a big thing in his speech at his final ESPY awards.

“To me there are three things we all should do every day. We should do these every day of our lives. No. 1 is laugh. You should laugh every day. No 2 is think. You should spend some time in thought. No. 3 is, you should have your emotions moved to tears, could be happiness or joy. But think about it. If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

It might take a huge road bump or a fully collapsed bridge in life to finally opens our eyes. But these seemingly disastrous occurrences are not without purpose. This is when we discover who we are. Who to love. How to love. What matters. Who matters. Who’s worth your time. Who just can’t be. How our actions affect, how much to sacrifice. How fiercely we will protect. What we will give and what we will take.

I know that this is when the most incredible people show up. Or when the ones that were already there become suddenly become obvious. And maybe the best thing about persevering through something you thought would beat you. Realizing you don’t have to be all things to all people.

No Swiss army knives here.

Shelley Plett is a graphic designer for the Free Press and Kansas Publishing Ven­tures. She can be reached at shelley@hillsborofree­press.com. The original version of this column ran in 2009.