Friday, February 28, 2014

it isn't as bad as you think

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I'm an optimist. And a worrier. Which means I'm always positive that something is going to go wrong. 

I'm trying to change. Honest, I am. Because there is no point to worrying. It's a killer.

Even our mixed-up culture is trying to drive that point home with all those "Keep Calm" signs. My favorite one ties in Douglas Adams' motto "Don't Panic" from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

In the movie, one sure way to keep from panicking is to always remember your towel. Because everyone knows towels do come in handy.  

Not worrying isn't all that easy, of course. But maybe the metaphorical "towel" is part of the solution. It's a multi-purpose tool, something that helps you be more proactive when it comes to cleaning up situations, softening things, keeping you warm. 

Being proactive and finding a solution is always better than sitting around worrying about what might happen. I have a couple of recent examples of why this is a good idea.

My daughter has been working on a documentary for National History Day. She is enthralled with her subject, the Little Rock Nine. And she is a perfectionist, so she wanted this documentary to be amazing. 

But it wasn't coming together as well as she hoped. Leading a team of peers when you're in 6th grade can be challenging. (I wanted to tell her it's easier with grown ups, but I just couldn't say it with a straight face....) 

When she realized the date for the competition was in less than two weeks and her team wasn't even 50% done, she panicked. She despaired. She cried. She worried. 

After she calmed down, I suggested she talk to her history teacher to get some perspective and advice. The teacher reminded MM that this was an exploratory opportunity - a dry run for next year - and recommended that she and the team morph their documentary into an exhibit. 

MM took her teacher's advice, finished the project, and is ready to exhibit tomorrow. Whether or not she wins, she finished it. She learned more about her subject. And she learned that it's better to regroup than to worry.

Another example: A friend of mine recently started a new job. It isn't an ideal job. His manager is a bully and his team has not embraced him. But he really needs this job. So he is trying hard to learn and fit in.  

Yesterday he asked my opinion about something. After working a 10 hour day (another story), he sent out end-of-the-day reports according to instructions he had been given.

But during transmission, he noticed a report went to a customer that should not have have been included in this submission for various reasons. Bad thing with emails - once they're generated and sent, they are nearly impossible to recall.

There was no one to tell, so he came home. And worried. Would the customer complain? Would he get fired? Would this cost his company an account? Should he say something or just hope it went unnoticed?

I recommended he be proactive and tell the manager of that account. That way she could be ready if the customer did call. And I suggested that all of this might be a tempest in a teapot. While it seemed like a big deal at 10:00 at night, it might not be as serious as he thought. Besides, if they fired him for a minor mistake, maybe it was a crappy job not worth keeping?

This morning he spoke to the account manager and told her what happened. Did the manager rake him over the coals? String him up? Fire him? 

No. She said, "It's ok, no big deal, but thanks for telling me!" And now my friend isn't sitting around worrying about what might or might not happen. 

And finally, one of my own. Many, many years ago I had a friend, J. We were close in elementary school, but in high school her family moved away. Back then there were no cell phones, no computers, no Facebook. So we wrote letters. Some of which I still have.

We continued our correspondence into college. A year before graduation, I went to visit at her school. We were still friends. But friends on paper and friends in person can be very different. We had both changed. Something happened between us and we argued. 

Rather than confronting the situation and trying to make the peace, I cut her out of my life and moved on. But I never forgot her. And I never let go of the feeling that it was all my fault in the first place.

Something last week triggered a memory of her. The memory was bittersweet. Along with memories of our times together rushed all the guilt and loss I felt 30 years ago. I wondered if I could find her.

Finally I remembered her married name and found her on Facebook. I wanted to send her a message so desperately that I paid Facebook $1.00 to ensure my message went to her Inbox. I wondered if she would see it. I worried that she might not remember me. I worried that she might not forgive me. I waited to see if I would be ignored, blasted, or received.

Before long she messaged back, thanking me for finding her and reaching out to her. She was glad to hear from me. I made her day. She didn't have a clue what happened in college and didn't want to remember. All she wanted was to reconnect. 

I'm reminded that even Jesus made a HUGE point of telling us that worrying is a waste of time. 
Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes. - Matthew 6:34 (The Message)
If Jesus bothered to talk about worrying, we should probably take note. We'll probably never have to worry about the stuff He had to think about. 

Near the end of his life, when he knew things were about to fall apart, did Jesus panic? Nope. He just got down on the floor and - aha!- used a towel to wash his disciples feet. He could have worried about the soldiers and the garden and how bad those feet were going to smell. But he didn't. He just took his towel and got down to business.  

A good lesson for all of us. Don't worry. Don't panic.

And don't forget your towel. 

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