Use the broken bits of life and make something new

Otto had always loved to putter around in his shop but when he finally retired after some 30 years at the local lumber yard, he took puttering to a whole new level. He began to repair or rebuild everything he could get his hands on.

“So in order to create something you first have to be able to create.”

— Lao-tzu, Chinese philosopher, founder of Taoism

Otto had always loved to putter around in his shop but when he finally retired after some 30 years at the local lumber yard, he took puttering to a whole new level. He began to repair or rebuild everything he could get his hands on.

It started with all the items his wife had nagged him for years to repair: an old lamp, a broken coffee table and a wobbly chair. Soon Otto’s efforts turned to bicycles, Singer sewing machines and even an old soft-drink dispenser.

Otto was a neighbour, so now and again I would wander over to his cluttered shop for a visit.

What I found most fascinating was the way Otto’s mind worked. He had the unique ability to see how an assortment of parts and pieces never intended to work together could be made to (somehow) work together in harmony.

He would often stand with his chin in his right hand while surveying the collection of odds and ends that rested beneath the tall grass in his backyard. With a creative mind, a mechanical aptitude and the determination to produce something usable, Otto would often create the workable, the practical and, upon occasion, the remarkable.

I watched Otto — over the course of one summer — build a working houseboat out of a collection of old oil drums, a battered holiday trailer and a late ’50s British import sedan. He had a spectacular ability to make useless things useful again.

I think most of us look at the broken parts and pieces of our life, the splintered relationships, missed opportunities and shattered dreams, and see them as unusable. But maybe there’s another way of looking at them or, more accurately, using them for a positive purpose.

What appears to be nothing more than the broken bits and pieces of our life may actually be the parts we need to build the life we desire. Perhaps with a little imagination, we can adopt Otto’s approach and from a variety of unrelated experiences put together a life that is empowering, enjoyable and successful.

Starting now, take an inventory of all the items that lay strewn in the tall grass of your mind. Turn over each piece and carefully examine each experience, situation and circumstance.

You’ve got a lot of great material to work with, so start pondering how you might use each to put together something new and unexpected.

Lives occasionally fall apart — that’s just the way it is sometimes. Lives can also be put back together again.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that lives sometimes fall apart because they need to be rebuilt from the foundation on up.

Many of us save these broken pieces so that we may wander out into the yard and stand there longing for what was or could have been, or beat ourselves up for having said or done the wrong things. Some of us might use this debris to build a victim mentality, to feel cheated or singled out. Few of us ever consider putting these old pieces to a new and positive use.

What can we take from the experiences in the form of knowledge, wisdom, insight or self-awareness?

I have a friend who forever tells me that things happen for a reason. It’s an interesting idea and, though I don’t believe that fate controls our destiny, I do believe we can draw positive life lessons from most every experience if we take the time to think about it.

Imagine taking the broken bits of a failed relationship and using them to build insight, understanding and self-awareness, owning all the pieces so you can honestly assess what worked, what didn’t and why, and then begin constructing new and better relationships.

Or take the fragments of your shattered pride after a job loss and use them to form a map, allowing you regroup, reassess and strike off in the direction of what you truly desire.

How about collecting all the shards of a disempowered life and using them to create a beautiful mosaic that says you are learning, living and on your way to becoming your true and magnificent self?

We have the unlimited potential and capacity to do whatever we want — if we want. After all, it’s not what we’ve got but what we do with what we’ve got that makes the difference.

“You come into the world with nothing,” wrote American humorist, journalist and critic Henry Louis Mencken. “And the purpose of your life is to make something out of nothing.”

One day I was walking through Otto’s backyard and I happened upon a small tricycle. The handlebars were bent and one back wheel was missing. It was a little rusty and the once bright red paint has been faded to a soft pink.

I wondered if Otto could bring this old tricycle back to its original glory and, even if he did, if would it be worth the effort. Otto walked over to me.

“I’ve got something special in mind for that treasure,” he told me.

It wasn’t long afterwards that he took me out to the garage to present his latest creation, a lamp fashioned from the old tricycle. It was quirky yet practical and utterly usable.

Otto recognized that the trike was no longer useful in its original form but, with a little creativity, fashioned it into something not only useful but desirable. Maybe that’s the biggest lesson: we can make something useful, even preferable, out of regrettable past experiences.

An empowered life where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. What will you start building today?

Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His new book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at

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