“What, me worry?” – Alfred E. Neuman
Are you worried? Afraid?
We live in a worrisome world. I grew up worrying about the Bomb, the Vietnam War draft, children starving in Bangladesh, and racial inequity in the Deep South and all around me. We had “atomic bomb drills” in school where they told us to stay away from windows and hide under a desk (as if that would do any good!)
My parents grew up in the Great Depression and worried about where their next meal might come from. They came of age during World War II worrying about the Nazi menace, about Jews and other minorities perishing in death camps, and the possibility of dying in a foreign war. They got through that only to learn of the Communist menace and Nuclear Winter.
My son worries about whether he can create lasting success, whether he is doing enough with the time he has, and that he might die in some completely random event.
We have other fears these days, both general and more personal. Our investments reduced to a fraction of their previous value, friends and family becoming sick or dying, lack of jobs, mice in the woodwork, identify theft, terrorism. Scary stories are in the news every day.
Search for Serenity
“Que Será Será, Whatever will be, will be, The future’s not ours to see, Que Será Será, What will be, will be.” – Doris Day
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” – Reinhold Niebuhr
“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.” – Albert Einstein
If we let ourselves, it can be easy to let the worries and fears rule our lives – now or at any time.
Are our fears rational? Yes. Are they useful? No.
Bad things will certainly happen in the future. But we cannot predict which bad things will come to pass and we cannot stop them from coming.
There are things we cannot change, and we will live more serene lives if we can learn to accept them. Live in the present, not in the past, nor the future. Deal with the problems and opportunities you have in front of you right now.
We live in the present, not the future. By keeping ourselves grounded in the present, we can deal with the issues that affect us now. We do not have enough time or energy here and now to solve every problem that might – and likely will not – come up in the future.
Find your serenity. Live in the now, not in the mists of what might happen someday. When you do think about the future, focus on the opportunities it will bring, then think about what you can do now to help make them become real.
A Man, A Plan… Wait, I Already Used That One!
“No campaign plan survives first contact with the enemy.” – Helmuth von Moltke
“The best laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft agley.” – Robert Burns
“It’s an ill plan that cannot be changed.” – Publilius Syrus
I have written previously about the importance of having a plan and of committing it to paper. Unfortunately, many people seem to think that a plan and reality are the same thing. Just as a map is not the same thing as the landscape it describes, a plan is not the result you want to create with it. The purpose of a plan is guidance. When things do not go the way you expected or intended, you can use the plan to remind you of your real goal.
We often mistake what might be for what will be. There are an infinite number of possible futures, and only a few that will actually occur. None of us has the time or energy to plan and prepare for every possible future.
A grandmaster chess player does not analyze every possible outcome of every move he might make. He uses his knowledge and experience to visualize promising moves and positions, then explores the near future of each of those moves. Then he adapts to the changing “world” of the chessboard and the moves his opponent actually makes.
A successful life is played like a great game of chess. Visualize outcomes you would like to see. Consider what you might be able to do now and in the near future that might bring you closer to one of those outcomes. Then make your move. If something unexpected happens, handle it then.
But don’t waste your precious time and energy trying to prevent things you cannot stop. None of us has that much power. We can only work with the present we now have. When the possible futures resolve into a real present, then we can work with that. Until then, we can do no more than hope and do something we hope might nudge our personal futures in the right direction.
Break It Down to Avoid a Breakdown
“I live one day at a time,
I dream one dream at a time;
Yesterday’s dead and tomorrow is blind,
And I live one day at a time.
— Joan Baez
The world is becoming more complex every year. We can allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by that complexity, or we can learn to handle it the way engineers deal with complex systems.
An engineer does not design an entire airplane at once. The designers break the job down into much smaller tasks – the seats, the rudder controls, the radar system, and so on – then each engineering team works on one small piece of the problem until it is finished. They live and work day to day on tasks and problems they can handle.
When your work and choices seem overwhelming, break them down. Don’t try to do everything at once. Pick a task and get it done. Then choose another and do it. When you run out of things you can do right now, spend some time thinking about how you can break a complex job down into bite-sized pieces.
If you have too many choices, write them down and think about your priorities and what you really care about. Maybe some of the things on your “must do” list don’t belong on it at all; maybe they are someone else’s idea of what you should do with your life. Choose the things that matter to you, and spend your time and energy doing those well.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy!
“Happy is what happens when all your dreams come true.” – Glinda the Good Witch in Wicked
Have you let worries rule your life? It just isn’t worth it; no amount of worrying will prevent or change the future. Worry sucks energy and makes everything harder to do.
Dream some positive dreams, and live right now as though everything is just the way you want it to be. We live in the best of all possible worlds, because it is the only world we have right now. We cannot change the past, but we can learn to live in and love the present.
Accept what you are, and who you are, and use that acceptance to give you strength and energy to do the things you need and want to do right now. Then pick just one of them and do it. The future will take care of itself.
“Don’t worry; be happy!” – Bobby McFerrin