When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, I had the same reaction many of my family and friends did, “Damnit.” Rather than pay homage to a courageous spirit, we saw her Supreme Court vacancy as one more tumultuous thing to add to an already tumultuous year. And we may not have hit bottom yet. With a little more than three months left in 2020, who knows what other awful thing can happen?
That’s when I thought about an old joke that appeared in my mom’s office:
There are only two things to worry about:Either you are sick or you are well.If you are well, there is nothing to worry about.If you are sick, there are only two things to worry about:Either you live, or you die.If you live, there is nothing to worry about.If you die, there are only two things to worry about:Either you go to heaven or hell.If you go to heaven, there is nothing to worry about.If you go to hell, you’ll have so darn much fun shaking hands with your friendsYou won’t have time to worry.
So why worry?
I know it seems flippant to say “why worry” when there are plenty of things to worry about. But worry is part of the problem.
When we worry, we focus on what we can’t control. We become exhausted and discouraged to the point we give up. The exploitative and other types of bullies use this to their advantage. They build their power by convincing us to surrender ours. “Resistance is futile,” as the Borg always say.
Instead, we should find where we can exercise control. What can we do? What part of our lives can we manage? How do we build ourselves to become stronger? Where can we show progress? What small victories can we gain? The more control we assert, the less worried we become.
Another way to avoid worry is to ask, “What’s the worst that can happen? And what can I do when it does?” Chances are the worst isn’t bad at all. You do something embarrassing, and people will forget about it the next day. Your project fails, and you use the experience to do better next time. You can prepare to avoid problems and mitigate risks. Perspective and planning are better than worry, and they increase your chance of success.
But what about catastrophe? There are plenty of people who have bounced back from disaster and became stronger from the experience. This has been true from me as I dealt with my parents’ divorce, my mom’s stroke, and various rejections and losses. I also think about people like Fred Guttenberg. As he recounts in his new book, Find the Helpers, he endured the worst horror a parent can face and got through it by finding purpose.
What if the worst-case scenario is death? Well, we all die. What matters is the life we have made, the examples we’ve set, and memories others have of us. If you have spend all your time worrying about death, you can never make a good life for yourself. We can remember Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg as an example of dedication, courage, dignity, and purpose. It’s the type of life you can create when you don’t live with worry.
Even when there is plenty to worry about, worry is not the best response to it. Find things you can do to carve out some control for yourself. Gain small victories wherever you can. Keep things in perspective and mitigate risk. If the worst does happen, know that you can overcome. Live your life fully and with purpose, and even death won’t faze you. And if you wind up in hell, think of all of the interesting people you’ll meet. So why worry?