The older I get the more I think about all the “small stuff I have sweated” about over the years. These are the things that at one time seemed to be tremendously important and major priorities for me. At particular times of my life, some of these things actually were priorities. However, when looking back over the years (hindsight is always 20/20), I now realize that those “old” priorities turned out not meaning a thing in terms of their lifetime value to me or to others. In essence they were only insignificant, inconsequential things (small stuff) that I unnecessarily worried about at the time.
I recently read a fantastic book by Richard Carlson, Ph.D. called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Men. This book identified fifty-two simple things that we can do to minimize stress in today’s mega-busy, tech-driven environment. A side note here is that Dr. Carlson has authored several “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” books that have become bestsellers. For today’s blog, we won’t have time to talk about all fifty-two things Dr. Carlson identifies. We will cover just a few of the most significant “takeaways” that I feel are most applicable to each of us:
1. Have an Affair
I’ll bet this title got your attention! Have you known individuals who barely get through life and have no enthusiasm for much of anything? These are folks who have a tendency to become overburdened and take problems and obstacles way too seriously. Consequently, we begin to live a life that is a bother instead of a joy. People are seen as burdens instead of as gifts. Challenges are dreaded instead of seen as opportunities. Dr. Carlson says that the solution to all of this is to have an affair with life. In other words, the idea is to reignite your passion for living, and to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves just how precious and short this adventure we call life is.
The book, A Parenthesis in Eternity, is recommended by Dr. Carlson as a good resource for putting things into perspective. A Parenthesis in Eternity encourages us to think of our lives as a blip on a passing screen. If we view our lives that way, why waste a second on self-pity, frustration, irritation, and all the other things daily living throws our way? Our lives are much more important and time is too valuable to waste energy on the small irritations of life. The key to achieving a really good affair with life is to wake up every morning reflecting on the miracle of life and how really fortunate we are that we were granted the privilege of experiencing another day.
2. Don’t Know the Answer
Sometimes the scariest words to say are “I don’t know.” Think about all the times we’ve put so much pressure on ourselves to always have the answers for every issue or problem that comes our way. Trying to have the answer to everything is impossible, and many times, gets individuals into big trouble. How fortunate we are to have a fantastic team of individuals that works together to help resolve problems for our clients and each other. Having credible and reliable individuals to rely on is a key element that many executives attribute to their own personal and business success.
The act of quieting down and letting go of our need to have an immediate answer many times will pave the way for an appropriate solution to come to us. Rather than banging our heads against a wall and being paralyzed by continuously mentally “computing” the same set of facts, what we often need to do is to look at things differently. Many times the answer will come to us the next morning after relaxing and “sleeping on” an issue after some time has passed.
Always rest assured that there is no harm in admitting that you don’t know what to do. Actually, in many instances, not knowing may be the best form of knowing. Have faith in yourself. Almost without fail, you will know what to do.
3. Be Able to Laugh at Yourself
I am sure that we know individuals who are so uptight about everything that nothing is funny. They have no sense of humor and very rarely laugh. Now let’s admit that none of us really enjoy being around these individuals. What a tremendously sad life they have! Let’s realistically look at ourselves and what each of us have to do on a regular basis. We have hundreds of things to do each day, tons of responsibility, people relying on us, and the moment-to-moment potential for many things to go wrong. Yet, to our own credit we keep showing up and trying our best each day.
But we know that no one is perfect and mistakes happen. It certainly is a welcome stress relief when we are able to learn from a mistake and laugh at ourselves a bit. It takes the pressure off feeling like you have to be perfect and bat a thousand all the time. It simply will not happen. What will happen is that we will be given opportunities to try…. make mistakes….and then become better and more valuable persons as a result. Acknowledging the importance of being able to laugh at ourselves and with others is undeniably one of the greatest joys of life.
4. Check Your Blind Spots
How many of us have been driving on an interstate and switched lanes, and completely by accident, cut someone off? This is certainly a dangerous situation that we unknowingly caused for ourselves and someone else. Fortunately, today, most new cars can be purchased with “blind spot” detectors to help minimize the chances of causing an accident. Similarly, our lives need “blind spot” detectors who will alert us from time to time to unforeseen catastrophes ahead. These personal “blind spot” detectors could be family, friends, coworkers, fellow church members, etc. This list of “detectors” could potentially be endless. What we should seek from these individuals would be alerts to potential self-inflicted dangers in our lives, or for them to be a source of insight and feedback to ways that we can become better in many aspects of our lives. For example, at work, we should seek feedback on ways that we can be more effective with the job responsibilities we are given. A good resource for this would be the actual clients we serve each day. Another example is to never be afraid to ask for advice when in doubt with making an important personal or professional decision. Relying on personal “blind spot” detectors will increase your chances of making more informed and ultimately correct decisions. Take the time to determine who your “blind spot” detectors are today and rely on them as needed.
“If you had an hour to live and could make just one call, who would it be to—what would you say—and why are you waiting?”
Stephen Levine as quoted in the book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff for Men