If being a worrier were considered a profession, I’d unquestionably be its best practitioner. Like the most adroit surgeon and the most insightful lawyer, I’d be regarded with awe, in this case for being able to put the brakes screechingly on any occasion for happy anticipation. And like theirs, my skills are products of years of refining that have led to perfection. Within me operates a yellow caution light never requiring a battery change that keeps me alert that things will almost never be as good as their promise. No day will be so sunny that, if I try, I won’t detect a cloud, no path so smooth that I can’t detect a camouflaged rock lurking to trip me up.
Don’t even try to compete with me for supremacy in this realm. My experience spans decades and has focused on things you wouldn’t think of worrying about. Yes, I know that COVID justifiably occupies the majority of anxiety space for most thinking people now. I emphasize “thinking” because some loonies still maintain the disease, as their leader would put it, is a “hoax.” That, of course, worries me.
Be assured, though, that my worries about COVID notwithstanding, I have enough agita space left not to have to overlook any of my other negative preoccupations. In my mind, they dwell in a mansion, not an efficiency apartment. Accommodations being spacious, they can, and do, roam at will.
Lately, I’ve searched for the source of this predisposition. My latest theory: it may have started in elementary school where I was a pretty good, therefore confident, student. When my parents inquired how I thought I did on a particular exam, I almost always expressed optimism. Then, one day, I was blindsided by a bad grade. I immediately considered a litany of excuses. “She” couldn’t decipher my handwriting. “She” was ticked off at me for talking too much to my seatmate. But I finally scrapped all the alibis, breathed deeply, and revealed the bad news to my parents. They chalked it up to an aberration and expressed confidence in my getting back on track next time. For me, though, the experience had been humiliating. I had failed to deliver what I customarily promised. I castigated myself for being a pretender, a phony. To prevent any repetition, I gradually crafted a simplistic, self-protective philosophy: things can unexpectedly go bad, so buffer yourself before they do. If you do that, their impact won’t be as severe. In short, expect little and you won’t be totally disappointed if you get even less. That meant reining in my own expectations, and, altruist that I am, persuading others to do the same with theirs.
Make no mistake, if I had a choice, I’d be as optimistic as the rest of my family tends to be. They’re remarkably tolerant, however, of my idiosyncrasy despite my raining so often on their parades. Once, more thoughtfully than maliciously, my wife, Elaine, remarked that I responded to optimism as though it were a personal insult. I answered that there was no negative intent about my habit, that if people weren’t shrewd enough to protect themselves against disappointment, I felt obligated to act as their shield.
A friend once advised me to worry only about things I have some control over. The rest, leave to fate. Considering that idea with objectivity, a quality in short supply for me, I recognize its wisdom. Don’t wallow in trepidation, even if what is worried about comes to pass. Enjoy the good moments before the inevitable bad ones materialize. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, as a philosophy teacher of mine was fond of repeating. But I know the guy tapping the keyboard. Nothing will stop him from worrying that bad weather will sabotage an outdoor family get-together (a small one, I promise), that his favorite lane in the swimming pool will be occupied when he gets there, that the pool temperature will be too cool, that a predicted storm will damage the roof of the house. Some of these are less than earth-shattering concerns, but I’m an equal opportunity worrier. And remember, every validated worry constitutes positive reinforcement, an incentive to continue what I started years ago. Don’t think good sense will deter me. I can’t stop being the Master Worrier.