Popular wisdom advises us not to sweat the small stuff. This bit of advice is often followed by the big reveal that it’s all small stuff.
I’m all for not fretting and sweating unnecessarily. But I’ve come to realize that left unattended, the small stuff can and will come back to bite me. I’m also aware that unless I sweat from time to time, I get lazy.
For instance, my six month sabbatical from blogging or my reluctance to participate in several one-minute bursts of activity throughout the day or my inability to produce the right receipts for an unexpected IRS audit for 2010 may not seem like things to get all steamed up about. But the cumulative effects of not posting consistently, not exercising daily, or not keeping Quicken records up to date can lead to serious sweat later. Or now, as the case may be.
Like the protagonist in any good story, we don’t want perfect. Even if we think we want our life to be all sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows, or at the very least void of IRS audits, our weapons of mass distraction will quickly convince us that the good life alone is a wee bit boring. We’ll start demanding drama. Or it will hunt us down.
We secretly want what we want our heroes to be; challenged, flawed, quirky, able to overcome all odds, and capable of wielding super powers at strategic moments. We want them to face the things we avoid at all cost and be forced to do the things we think we can’t so we can test the “what would we do” waters without getting in over our heads.
Of course, our heroes must be just different enough from us so we cannot be expected to perform the miraculous feats we fully expect them to perform. Their stories must consist of big, dramatic, cliff-hanging stuff. They must be agile enough to run backward in heels without wondering where they are going or why and will naturally be accompanied on their life-altering adventures by sexy sidekicks who are always ready with clever comebacks or brilliant solutions.
By contrast, our stories consist of small, mundane, everyday irritants like lost keys or cracked windshields. Despite impressive juggling abilities, we are middle aged, slightly arthritic, and unable to retrieve the name of everyday items and/or our youngest child at will. However, we shall overcome. This, in itself, is miraculous.
Because our brains are designed to figure out the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of stuff, we readily escape into our heroes’ story lines far more often than our own. What we forget is fictitious characters have writers and editors who meticulously edit out anything that isn’t essential to the moving their story forward. These stories are supposed to be riveting.
The small stuff makes editing the events of our day to day lives more difficult, rendering our lives less riveting. Many at midlife are fine with this. We’re tired. But we’re still wired for a good story. This brings me to the conclusion that a better motto for us might be, “Sweat it and forget it.”
An engaging story demands ongoing effort, i.e. sweat. I’m not saying it has to be hard. I’m just saying once we sweat it, we’d do well to “forget it”. (It being the attachment we have to things working out according to our plan.) If not, we run the risk of sweating the small ego stuff. Trust me, sweating that stuff is not attractive.
Regardless of the blood, sweat, and years I have already spent writing, exercising, or futilely looking for random receipts, the only thing that matters now is what I do now.
Even though I have written a few books, if my royalties do not exceed my expenses, the IRS will call my writing a hobby. Because I’ve now been a certified fitness professional for more years than I’ve not, if I don’t show up at the gym for a few month, people assume I’ve retired. And who knows what the fallout will be to my unintentional blogging ban? In a world of instant messaging and infinitesimal attention spans, what happened an hour ago is old news. In cyber years, I may already be extinct.
Clearly, it’s time to get back to basics in hopes that paying attention to the small stuff now will prevent future perspiration when the tax man comes calling, the YMCA can use a senior fitness instructor, and friends mention that they haven’t seen a blog post since Christmas.
What about you? What’s worth sweating this summer?