Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Stop Worrying and Start Living

I loved Kiese Laymon's collection of essays How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America primarily for its title essay, which is one of the things I read that helped me start to get my head around what it means to be a Black man in America.

One of the other gifts of that collection, though, was this quote, which I used as my "from the archives" quote on Tungsten Hippo this week:

I do not think I can fully express how much I love this quote. It was written about the special sort of worry a Black man in America grows up with, and I don't want to distract from that. But like so much great writing, it speaks beyond its original context.

It speaks to me, a white woman who grew up learning a very different sort of worry. I've been thinking a lot about how society's expectations of girls and women has fed into the limits I have let worry put on my life, but I've not yet come to conclusions that are ready to share.

Instead, I want to talk a little bit about that quote, and why I love it.

I may even love it more than this quote, which has traveled with me printed on various pieces of papers since my third year of college: "Everything always works out well in the end. If things aren't going well, it is not the end yet." That quote comes from my college physics professor, who said it was an old Portugese proverb. Something similar turned up in the 2011 British movie Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and then reading Don't Call It Bollywood taught me that the source for the quote in that movie was a 2007 Hindi film called Om Shanti Om. Since my college physics class was in 1993, the Portugese proverb source is still the one I go with.

Whatever the source of the "everything works out well in the end" quote, I love it because it reminds me not to take the crap that happens in life too seriously. Obviously, there are some things that could happen that most definitely would not "work out well in the end." But those things don't happen often. Mostly, when something has me down, it is of the "it is not the end yet" variety, so the quote helps me keep perspective.

I love the Kiese Laymon quote for a different reason. It doesn't help me keep perspective so much as give me a kick in the pants.

I am a planner, and a well-known side effect of being a planner is being a worrier. I don't mean the "I worry I'll forget something important when I pack for a trip" sort of worrier (although I do worry about that). I mean the "I might make a mistake and destroy my career/life" sort of worrier. I can live with the first type of worry, which I generally deal with by reminding myself that the place I'm traveling to has stores. The second type is poison, because it can paralyze me and fool me into staying with the status quo just because I'm afraid of messing up as I try to aim for the life I really want.

I'm working on letting go of this type of worry. I'm working on accepting the risk of mistakes, and trusting myself to work through mistakes.

Brene Brown's book The Gifts of Imperfection helped me realize what fears were holding me back. But as I read it, I also realized that I already know what I need to do to live the type of life I really want to live. I just need to practice at it. And Kiese Laymon's quote reminds me to keep practicing.

For instance: last night, I had a networking event to attend. I did not do my best there. I flubbed explaining what it is I do, and want to do. I struggle with the fact that what I want to do is so different from the norm of what people expect. I want to run a consulting/contracting/training business AND run a products business whose first focus is books. I don't want to pick the one that excites me the most and focus on that, because they both excite me. Part of the reason I chose this path is because it lets me do multiple things at once. That is the sort of life I want to lead.

I usually deal with this by just picking the part of my story that is more relevant to the crowd and focusing on that. That strategy usually works well, but last night's event needed the full story, and I don't tell it well yet. I need to work on that.

I think that to learn to tell the story well, the first step is to stop apologizing for it. I need to stop worrying about whether or not what I'm trying to do is "OK" and just keep doing it. I'm paying my bills. My business is doing OK. That's enough. Maybe what I'm doing will turn out to be the wrong thing. Maybe it will all fall apart. I have to trust myself to put the pieces back together if that happens, and trust the plan I've made and am following.

In short, it is time to stop worrying, and start living.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Yes, it's a great book, and a great quote.

  3. EarthSciProf9:21 AM

    Thanks for the good/useful thoughts. Just requested the Laymon book from the library. Am going to track down the Brown book, which sounds very useful. Threading the needle between planning and high standards on the one side and excessive worry/fear and fear of failure/beating oneself up for (often perceived) failure on the other side is something that I find to be extremely challenging.


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