Nathan Howe shared the life lesson he learned from a broken window and some insight into working on the 'broken windows' in our lives.
When it comes to completing any task, it’s all about getting down to it and chipping away at it bit by bit. However, sometimes we find ourselves in the slums of procrastination and eventually giving up because it feels like too much work. This kind of "task paralysis" was addressed with refreshing insight and perspective by X (previously Twitter) user Nathan Howe (@natehowe), using a "broken window" in his basement as an example to talk about getting things done.
Howe—who is a musician and educator—narrated the origin of his broken window in his X post as such: “Several years ago, a neighbor kid kicked a football and shattered a small basement window. We were a family of six living on a teacher’s salary at the time, so I boarded it up, thinking I’d get to it someday. The frame was rusted shut. I couldn’t fix it.”
He then explained that he did make an effort to get some estimates from window companies to repair the window a few times over the years. "Of course, the plan was to upgrade to energy-efficient windows for the whole house. $15,000. It was simply out of reach. In the meantime, the boarded window let in bugs but not light," he wrote. Since the broken window was within a frame that was “embedded in the foundation,” repairing it would mean chiseling it all out by hand, which was “a labor-intensive and expensive process” for a total of “six windows” in his house.
The idea of having a broken window “ate” at Howe for years and each time he crossed the window or even a hardware store, it nagged him. He said that he was well aware of the fact that he “needed to address it,” but thinking about the “process” and the “price” made him “paralyzed.” After some time had passed, Howe’s wife got a new job and the couple had to move, but not before selling their house, which meant that any future buyer would need an FHA loan for the house, which would not be possible with a broken window. So, he pulled up his socks and finally “faced this thing head-on” after five years.
Then my wife had a job change, and we needed to move. I knew that a potential buyer couldn't get an FHA loan on the property if there was a broken window. So I pulled off the boards and cardboard to face this thing head-on. It had been at least 5 years.— Nathan Howe (@natehowe) August 27, 2021
He wrote, “I thought, ‘What the heck. I’m gonna have to pay for it anyway.’ I grabbed some WD-40, sprayed it all around the rusted frame, and gave it a tug. To my astonishment, it moved for the first time in decades. I pulled the window out and took it downtown. It was a $12 fix.”
"I could have fixed the problem for $12 the same day it happened. But I let it haunt me for years, shutting out light and letting in bugs. And I finally fixed it for somebody else when the house was empty. It didn't need to be the most efficient. It just needed to be a window," he wrote. Explaining what he learned from this experience, he added: "OK, this isn't really about my window. I mean, the story is true. But it's also a decent parable. Many of us, especially those with ADHD, anxiety, or depression, tend to live with broken windows of one type or another for years."
- Don't blame yourself for dwelling on your broken windows. Just enjoy the light when you fix one.— Nathan Howe (@natehowe) August 27, 2021
- There are some windows you can't fix by yourself. Find the right help for the right window.
- You don't have to fix it all now. Just start by starting.
He drew a parallel to things in life that we must do but are unable to. “Everybody’s broken windows are different. They are things that seriously affect our quality of life, and we know they need work, but the actions to address them seem too daunting,” he said. Howe then listed out things one must keep in mind if they have a couple of ‘broken windows’ in their lives.
Howe’s "broken window" analogy was found to be relatable by X users who added their two cents to his thread. @jenostrum said, “Thanks to this story, I finally filed for divorce last month. We had been intending to do this for a couple of years, but inertia and anxiety kept me from completing the paperwork. Thanks for the inspiration.” @Javier90019 commented, “Great on you for many reasons, especially not to pass the buck and blame others for mistakes. Good on you.”
Recently, I started changing my own oil for the first time in my life. It is so easy and leads me to wonder what else have I been not doing that could make my life easier, and why have I let my life become surrounded by broken windows?— Steven Wade (@ThetfordSteven) August 28, 2021
Thank you for this thread. As someone who often experiences crippling anxiety, this is a great parable, and I will try to use for motivation in the morning.— Selene (@seleneonline) August 29, 2021
Therapy gave me a great tool for this. Make a list of all the things you're putting off, rate how hard each feels. Start w/ the lowest rated one. Then write down the outcome. How challenging was it actually? Maybe easier? Then work through in any order until the end. Momentum. 🙂— Marcie Phillips (@Marchanica) August 29, 2021