I worry. That's a pretty normal thing in this world, but man do I worry all the time! You see, for many years I have struggled under the unfortunate misapprehension that by worrying about situations I have all the bases covered. I have everything together. Nothing could possibly faze me.
And let's just take that one step farther, shall we? Not only do I worry about the situation in hand, oh no, that would be too easy! Instead, what I like to do is dream up every possible outcome I can from one simple interaction and worry about each one of those happening too. That way, whichever one happens, I'll be prepared; I'll have the script and I couldn't possibly make a mistake. If I notice that I'm not worrying? I worry.
Let me give you an example. Not so long ago, a friend of mine called me up, very upset. This was, of course, distressing to hear and I made my best attempts to calm them down and give them some caring advice. Upon doing this my friend abruptly and unexpectedly said, "I've got to go, bye," and hung up.
Well, color me confused! That wasn't usual for someone who so often peppers their speech with pet names and affection. The unexpectedness of her sign off led me down the treacherous and icy path of worry.
"Maybe I gave her bad advice and she thinks I'm a bad friend."
"Maybe she's angry with me. If she's angry with me she may never speak to me again."
"What if something I said offended her? Then everyone will get the wrong idea and nobody will ever speak to me again! I'll have to explain myself and make sure everybody knows I was only trying to be a good friend. I have to make sure that people don't abandon me!"
Then, just for funsies, in the movie theater of my mind I'll play over the situation again and again, analyzing and assessing every word and every angle, to see what I might have done wrong and what I could do to make it right... y'know, just in case. Somebody pass the popcorn!
This strategy used to make me feel very much in control, but now? All of this worry makes me tired. I feel like I've lived 100 lives, all inside my head, by trying to anticipate people's behavior and by fretting about situations that may or may not come to pass. What a horrible waste of time.
But really, that's just the problem with worrying, isn't it? It gives you the illusion of control over people or situations, even just a tiny bit. And how seductive, how inviting a prospect? Worry is so deeply ingrained in culture and society it's hard not to be taken in by its flashy and shallow charms. "Worry about this and it might not happen to you."
Then I realized there's not an awful lot in this world that you can control, except maybe yourself. Worry freezes you; it's just fear disguised as something seemingly productive, but worry will stop you in your tracks. It has certainly had me retracing steps, thinking I'm moving my life forward, when really I'm just trapped in my own head at all times.
Stop and think about it. You have to make choices and decisions in life. There's no guide that tells us how to do this best, or how to make no mistakes, or keep everyone around you happy. You just have to choose and ride it out. Maybe somebody does get upset at you; maybe you make the wrong choice and lose. Will pacing, anticipating and whipping yourself up into a feverish state of anxiety really make any of these outcomes any less painful, should they come to pass? I think no. What happens is you become cynical, jaded and life becomes grey. People will react the way they react; events will unfold with a life of their own.
The test I face every day is exploring that unknown element, engaging with those around me and trusting what is going on right here and right now. Every moment could be meditation if I'm not playing out dramas over and over in my head. The silence and the blank canvas of the day could be much less terrifying when there aren't an infinite amount of "what ifs" confronting me in my mind's eye.
If the worst happens? Trust that I can handle it.
And take a risk on now.
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