On Being Needed

After reading my post last week on loving kindness, a friend sent me a New York Times article by the Dalai Lama and Arthur C. Brooks: "Behind Our Anxiety, the Fear of Being Unneeded":

"In one shocking experiment, researchers found that senior citizens who didn’t feel useful to others were nearly three times as likely to die prematurely as those who did feel useful.
This speaks to a broader human truth: We all need to be needed. "

What I get from this is two things: first, we need to have a purpose to ease our anxiety and feel that life has meaning. Second, we must be a part of a community. You can't be needed unless there's someone else there to need you.

Over the past five weeks, I've thought a lot about being needed. I don't work in an emergency room. I'm not an elementary or high school teacher. I'm not qualified to save small children from fires or even a wading pool. So then, what purpose does my work serve in society? How can my labour serve other people? Am I needed?

"Being 'needed' does not entail selfish pride or unhealthy attachment to the worldly esteem of others. Rather, it consists of a natural human hunger to serve our fellow men and women. As the 13th-century Buddhist sages taught, 'If one lights a fire for others, it will also brighten one’s own way."

At my day job as an editor, I like to think I'm serving people by making text accessible to a wide audience. Every time I check a fact or untangle a difficult sentence I feel useful. Sometimes I imagine that I'm opening a door for a child to walk through to discover they love art.

As a writer, the thing I most want to do is write books that light fires for others, so that I can experience a hot blaze in my life. I'd like all the things that brightening through service entails: happiness and the ability to see beyond myself.

The next time you're facing writer's block or the fear of doing something important, perhaps ask yourself how taking action can light a fire for someone else. You're on the verge of writing the book that someone else needs to read so they can laugh or cry. This purpose might lessen the anxiety, bring you joy, or give you the resolve to keep going. If we think this way, about the light we bring to others by being present, then we're not alone at a computer, staring at a blinking cursor on a blank page. Perhaps this is how we can get out of our own way, be well, and author the story that world needs.

The Next Fix

My biggest life achievement this month is I hired someone to repair the closet door in my bedroom. I know, this sounds like a simple thing to do, but I learned a major life lesson from this experience. (Wait for it...)

A Brief History of the Closet Doors

I often procrastinate on repairs. My family isn't big on non-emergency home improvements because we're not handy, so fixing anything means paying for parts and labour. (We're Chinese, so we don't like throwing away perfectly good money.) I've seen my parents devise ingenious yet ridiculous routines to work around a broken garage door opener, which was out of commission for nine months. When I visited I threatened to pay someone to fix it so they finally asked a family friend to check it out and it turned out that two screws were loose. It took a minute to fix. My mom lived with this problem for about 270 days...

Once when I was visiting my parents my shower door fell on me. My dad reinstalled the panels, but in the wrong order (I think he did it after he'd had a few glasses of wine) and told me to live with it, so for a few weeks I was climbing into the shower in the weirdest, most back-breaking way. First world problems, I know. Again, things changed when I said, "I think I can pay a friend fifty dollars to have a look at this."

Anyhow, my closet has two heavy sliding doors on it and for more than two years they would jam whenever it got humid, which is ten months of the year in Hong Kong. This made getting dressed in the morning suck super hard. (Sometimes I chose to wear shoes that didn't require socks because I couldn't reach the sock drawer.) I felt defeated every time I finished doing laundry and had to put things away, so I had clean heaps of clothes sitting on my guest room bed. Oiling the track didn't help. My cousin had a look at it and didn't have any answers. I gave up for a while, mostly because I was writing my book and didn't have the money to fix it. I was stuck with the belief that I couldn't solve this problem.

One day last month I finally had enough. Why was I making my life so hard when I had the resources to make it easier? I Googled, "Fix broken sliding closet door Hong Kong." (I learned this Google lesson the hard way, after I opened a coconut with a hammer. There are dozens of YouTube videos with much more civilized solutions. Later, I learned how to disconnect a washing machine through the power of Google, so I'm not totally hopeless.) I got a quote, which I thought was too expensive and contacted another company until I got a better price.

So on Saturday, the repair guys came and fixed the closet door. It slides so smoothly I actually spent a minute moving the door back and forth. Mesmerizing! I also had the guest room A/C cleaned, paint touched up on my bedroom wall, a magnetic knife rack mounted to my kitchen wall, a panel removed from a cupboard, and all the lights in the apartment checked. Oh and I got advice on wall mounting for the TV I don't yet own and the repair dude said he could get me the device at cost.

The Takeaway

I learned that I don't have to live with a problem forever. I can choose to fix anything in my life. I have the resources to do this. Either I learn how to do it myself, or I find an expert I trust who will guide me or do it for me.

This isn't just about closet doors. The same principle applies to health, mental health, and writing. There is a solution out there. I just have to figure out what it is, devise a plan, and execute it. I don't have to settle for broken.


I'm kind of in love with this wall mounted magnetic knife rack. Now I don't have to worry about cutting myself every time I reach into my cutlery drawer.

I'm kind of in love with this wall mounted magnetic knife rack. Now I don't have to worry about cutting myself every time I reach into my cutlery drawer.