Lessons from a Kitchen Chair

an essay by
GRACE WETZEL | Student + Writer 



I LEARNED one of my most important life lessons from a kitchen chair. As a four-year-old, I was gallivanting around the kitchen, causing general mischief, when I got into a fight with a kitchen chair. I somehow managed to trap my arm between the wooden slats that formed the back of chair. At my screams of righteous indignation, my father hurried into the room. Seeing that the only crisis was my theatrics, he walked quietly over to where I was imprisoned, and calmly told me, “If you can get yourself in, then you can get yourself out.” Then, he waited.

Upon initial reflection, this idea seems simple, and as a four-year-old, I took it in its completely literal sense. Since Dad was going to be of no help, I freed myself from the chair’s grasp by moving my arm back up to where the opening was wider. Soon, I was off to my next adventure, but, surprisingly, my father’s words remained imprinted on my brain. And so, throughout my childhood, as I found myself in bigger and better predicaments, I always came to think of this phrase as a lifeline. While helpful in contending with physically awkward situations, I discovered that my dad’s advice was even more vital in confronting quandaries of the emotional and intellectual variety.

As someone who is just fully stepping into the world of “adulting”, I can attest that it is a terrifying experience. You are haphazardly making decisions that could potentially shape the rest of your life, while frantically trying to remember whether you have one more unexcused absence in class, even as you struggle to remind yourself to eat something today other than cereal and pizza. The decisions that you make—based on leftover pizza and three hours of sleep—are not always your finest. This is where my dad’s mantra of damage control has made the biggest impact on my life.

Mistakes will happen, jobs will fall through, you will get rejected, you will get your heart broken in more ways than one, but you can always fix what you have broken. You can pull yourself out of whatever hole you have fallen (or jumped) into, because you have the choice. It may not end up as you had planned, but it will still be what is right for you in that moment, because you refused to let the choice just slip away.

As children, we don’t yet realize the full potential of the power of choice; we have more important things going on, like learning to walk or fighting the furniture. But in these moments, we begin to learn about the innate power we possess. And so, as our priorities shift away from battling inanimate objects, and toward fighting for the betterment of society and ourselves, our minds become more conscious of the wide universe of our own choices.

Granted, along with this new-found knowledge comes the temptation to simply surrender. Why choose, when there is a chance that, eventually, someone might fix your problem for you? After all, adult life is tough, so cut a girl some slack, why don’t you? But, honestly, that is why this phrase has stuck with me. It not only gives me the choice of how I am are going to react to whatever mishap life throws at me, but also rejects the option of giving up. The saying isn’t, “If you can get yourself in, then you can sit there and cry.” It says you can get out; it is your choice.

So, I’ll offer a little advice of my own: keep fighting those chairs, physical or metaphorical, because the ability to choose your path is one of the greatest gifts you will ever receive. Simply waiting for your life to magically right itself robs you of the innate freedom that you possess as a human being. Making your choice wins it back. 

Photo by Andrew Branch