Back in middle school, every girl in our class rocked a variation on this exact get-up: black jeans, brown leather shoes (Sebagos, wut), a woven brown leather belt, and a light denim shirt over a white turtleneck. I remember reading about, like, igneous rock and writing notes to Lizzie with the sleeves of my denim shirt rolled up and the laces of my Sebagos wrapped into a little spiral.
I still think it looks pretty cool—the one thing we wore looking back that doesn’t make me want to tear my eyeballs out. Cool, casual, understated—and nearly forgotten.
If it ain’t broke, right?
Typing that got me to thinking about that phrase, an adage that I sort of can’t stand. It reeks of an era of practicality that makes sense but looking back was probably born of necessity, frugality, and oppressive societal expectations.
It’s not far off from that old John Wayne quote about quitters I saw on a billboard somewhere in South Carolina yesterday. Given what I just went through—having my figurative fridge pulled away from the wall to point out a massive, wall-crumbling fissure in my foundation—not fixing what “ain’t broke” could have translated to more years of stalled happiness. More unprioritized joy and set aside fulfillment that I assumed just wasn’t mine for the taking.
I mean, if things are generally really good and you’re as happy as you can expect to be and you don’t really want to be anywhere else, that “ain’t broke.” But I’ve found there’s a thread of danger in this approach. When is it actually ok to be a quitter? When are the small, broken parts just as important as the big, unbroken ones? Can we stop applauding “sticking it out” for once? It seems like misplaced praise.
I’ve struggled with that expectation my whole life. I am NOT a quitter. And I rarely need anyone else to push me, because I’m doing enough of it myself. Failing is rarely an option. And sticking it out always seemed the more noble path—the slap on the back, the immutable brave choice. Stick out the sport that is slowly, painfully twirling your spine inside your back, because you’re tough. Stick out the college you hate, even though there are zillions more to transfer to. (I transferred, but it took me years to forgive myself for that perceived failure.) Stick out the job that cripples you with anxiety because your boss is a sociopath, but it’s got a great starting salary for someone your age. Stick out a friendship that’s less rewarding than it is damaging.
How about don’t stick it out, and make moves to make yourself happier? It takes bravery, and I’ll admit that in my scenario, I didn’t have it. Worse, I blamed myself for the broken parts, when it turns out it had nothing to do with me at all.
I guess I’m lucky that way.
Move the fridge away from the wall. It can be gross back there, but knowing is better than not knowing, right? Determine whether or not—in your own situation—”it ain’t broke” is a pile of outdated crap. It may not be broken, but sometimes concealing cracks and keeping cool just isn’t good enough.