Liz says that, if she could tell her younger self one thing, it would be to stop worrying so much. Sound like threadbare advice though this may, I only had to ponder it a moment to get all, “Whoa — whoa.” Yes, there is a very real sense in which Bobby McFerrin beat me to this bottomlessly profound message, but it’s the very intersection of repetition and sheer inanity that makes it so ignorable in the first place. Reflect for a moment on how much time you’ve squandered thinking over and re-thinking over dire (and practically always unrealized) outcomes in the past. (“What if I can’t figure out to write the next sentence? What if this blog post doesn’t turn out? What if this idea is too vague to get across?”) How likely is it that you’re doing the very same thing today? Whoa — whoa.
Plunk this one straight into the “Life’s too short” bucket. Given my fixation on my own mortality — and desire to take the future-based view — I’m surprised I hadn’t given serious thought sooner to put worry into the whole threescore-and-ten context. Maybe I just couldn’t bear to calculate just how much of my life I burnt as a squirrely little kid, computing the gory details of every possible embarrassment (and many impossible embarrassments) ahead. But lately I’ve put a more concerted effort toward strangling worry in the crib, as it were. I don’t know if worry-inclined humans — and I’m far from the worst in that department — can prevent worries from sprouting like fields of poison mushrooms, but maybe they can build the habit of refraining from picking and eat them. My point is: strangle the mushrooms.
Again, I rack my brain looking for a way to make this sound non-stupid. What I seem to have realized — and maybe you already knew this — is that behind the platitudes about not worrying is that worrying has no actual value but as a self-distraction, and distraction is a Bad Thing Indeed. It’s an issue of doing versus having done; worrying might feel appropriate in the moment, but it couldn’t be less cool later on. How easy to fall into the trap of telling yourself that, by way of your obsessive worrying, you’re preparing yourself for the future. At least it’s pretty easy for me to fall into that trap, and if I’m honest with myself, I know I’m doing nothing of the kind. To the extent that I let myself worry, I let myself become the male equivalent of Liz Dunn: comfortable, in a sense, but aimless, unaccomplished, detached from society, and haunted by this weird gnawing feeling.
But yes, to answer your question, I am getting “DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY” tattooed on my chest in Olde English lettering.