In the nineties, there was a spoken word art piece that was set to music and ended up being quite popular for a time: “Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen.” It was a pithy life guide that got people’s attention. The only sure things in life are the simple ones, and this song articulated many simple truths set to a catchy beat. As I sit down to write this week’s column, I’m reminded of one of the lines from the song: “…know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum.” How true. I’ve always been a worrier. I worry about personal problems, and world events. It would seem no issue is too small or large for me to fret about. When U.S. troops invaded Granada in 1983, I was worried about that. I’m sure a lot of people were, but most of them were not four years old. I was. A limited military engagement on the Isle of Spices is not something most four-year-olds would concern themselves with. I did. I have no idea why, but for whatever reason, my brain happens to be wired that way.
Lately, there’s been no shortage of things to worry about. The world has a limitless supply of problems. Thanks to instant news, I get to be aware of most of them. I’ve got a business, kids, and a wife to worry about. I’ve got siblings, parents, and extended family to worry about. I’ve got that sales lead I forgot to follow up on last week, and a hundred other minor details to worry about. All this, and yet I also have a rational mind. I know that the words of the Sunscreen song are true. I might as well be chewing bubble gum. Still, at night when I lay down, I worry. In the morning, when I wake up, I worry. I most definitely sweat the small stuff. This leads me to an unavoidable conclusion: I’m a moron. It’s no surprise that despite a family history of good hair, mine fell out when I was 22. Stress I suppose. We all know how stressful it is to be 22 and have few responsibilities and a life of relative ease.
I do grasp for good news where I can though, so let’s see if we can scratch some out of this situation. Worry, like fear, can be an excellent motivator. In school, it made me turn in my assignments on time. In business, it has made me conscientious about getting back with people (despite that lead I lost last week), and trying to stay one step ahead. I was worried once about a property I was having trouble selling. In talking it over with a confidant they told me, “You know the difference in you and ‘Broker A’? He doesn’t lie awake and worry about this stuff.” Maybe that’s a good thing. My business is better than his lately. Maybe he would do well to worry a little more. For all his good thoughts and positive thinking classes, he’s failing at the task at hand. The guy with the worried mind is not. It’s true that I owe a part of my success to the fact that I can’t get some of this stuff out of my brain. At the end of the day, the fear of failure is what keeps driving me. If fear can motivate you to keep moving, it’s probably a good thing. It’s just a very respectful fear; not a paralyzing one. That respect has seen me through the first half of my life with just the right amount of failure and success. So I view fear and worry as friends, not enemies. Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.” Having the courage to continue in spite of the worry is what’s hard sometimes, but I soldier on.
The other day I read a story about pessimists being better at their jobs. I’ve also read articles that say we live longer too, and that we’re more likely to develop dementia (not excited about that last one). A quick web search will offer lots of hits on the power of pessimism. I’ve always claimed to be a realist. Dealing in reality can make you look very pessimistic given the state of the world, but one thing I’m sure of: Pessimism is better for some of us than optimism. There is at least as much power in pessimism as in positive thinking, you just have to know how to channel it. So, if you’re one of those people on the other side, peddling optimistic claptrap, just remember that it doesn’t work for all of us. Some of us live on the darker side called the real world. We have plenty to worry about, but that awareness can be used for positive things. Gravity is a bit heartless when you fall, but it’s also the force that holds everything on this world in place. Worry holds some of us in place. So be it.