by Niall Doherty

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I’ve been house-sitting for more than two months now. Part of the gig is looking after two dogs named 81 and Havana. I feed them, I take them for walks, I get naked and jump in the shower with them when they start to smell bad.

I often take the dogs down to the levee near the house. I let them off the leash and they run around for a bit, swim in the Mississippi and generally have a good time. There didn’t seem to be any problem letting them off the leash. They were friendly with other dogs and nobody else on the levee seemed to mind. Then, one day, I had them off the leash and 81 spotted a lady walking her dog about 30 yards away. He dashed over to them, tail wagging, wanting to say hi. The lady didn’t seem impressed. Her dog was on a leash, and she started shouting at me as 81 engaged in the butt-sniffing ritual…

“Call your dog!”

“It’s okay, she’s friendly.”

Call your dog!

“It’s okay, really.”

“Call your dog, ASSHOLE!”

Whoa. I called 81 away and the lady walked off.

Now maybe her dog wasn’t friendly and she was trying to protect 81, or maybe she was just the biggest bitch on the levee that day. I don’t know. Everyone else I’ve met while out dog-walking has been cool.

But here’s the thing: that one shitty interaction made me rethink letting the dogs off the leash. For several weeks afterwards, I kept them on it all the way to the levee, waiting until we got out of sight down by the water before letting them run free. I’d see some other people walking along the levee with their dogs off the leash but still figured I shouldn’t be doing that anymore.

Then one day a few weeks back I was listening to the Accidental Creative podcast, and Todd Henry asked a question that stuck with me: “Are you creating permanent solutions to temporary problems.” Todd was asking that question in the business sense, noting that we often spend a lot of time and energy setting up extensive protocols at work as a knee-jerk reaction to temporary problems, and then those same protocols hinder us from coming up with creative solutions down the road.

That question is worth asking outside the workplace as well. Where are you creating permanent solutions to temporary problems?

For me, it was cool to let the dogs off the leash down at the levee, until one person complained about it. That was a temporary problem. I haven’t seen that girl on the levee since. But for weeks I behaved as if she was hiding in the bushes, waiting for my dogs to run free so she could jump out and call me an asshole again. My permanent solution to the temporary problem was to keep the dogs on the leash, which sucked because they might get 45 minutes of real exercise per day and they should be able to run around as they please and sniff whatever they want for those 45 minutes.

Since I came to realize that I had created a permanent solution to a temporary problem, I’ve corrected course. 81 and Havana are running free on the levee again. It’s been a while since anyone has called me an asshole. If that does happen again, the solution will be to put the dogs back on the leash until the offended party leaves the area. Temporary problem, temporary solution.

What about you?

Where in your life have you created a permanent solution to a temporary problem? Maybe one loud-mouth disapproved of something you once did, and you changed your behavior to please them. Maybe you took a big risk one time and got burned, and so vowed never to aim so high in future.

I’m asking you to question those solutions.

Are they really serving you well, or are they just holding you back from something special? Just because you upset a few people or fail a few times doesn’t mean you should change everything. Many problems are temporary. You don’t need permanent solutions to overcome them.