[George's Pond]

Sweating the Small Stuff

Dear Reader: Just so you know, this story was written a couple of weeks before our world was turned upside down. In light of what is happening now, pretty well everything else seems to be small stuff. But this too shall pass. We shall overcome. – George

I discovered it hidden in a corner of our basement storage room amid a pile of almost forgotten dust-laden detritus – stuff once considered too precious to toss but ultimately not important enough to be rescued from the darkness.

A bestselling relic of the late 1990s, it was tattered and dog-eared with yellow age spots encroaching on its perimeter and a title so familiar it’s become part of the vernacular – Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.

How many times have I heard that from wellmeaning family members as I’ve got my knickers in a knot over this, that or the other pseudo crisis?

I’m not sure how Richard Carlson’s little book came into my possession. I didn’t buy it and I’d never read it. But it was all the rage back in the day as people struggling in an increasingly pressurized world gobbled it up by the millions.

Self-help is not a literary genre that piques my interest, but books like this one fly off the shelves. The world is forever looking for a silver bullet.

Personally, I have no interest in enriching a complete stranger who presumes to tell me how I can lead a more fulfilling life, but curiosity prevailed. I began skimming through the pages of that fragile little paperback and a few of the chapter titles struck painfully close to home. Become a Better Listener. Choose Your Battles Wisely. Do One Thing at a Time. Choose Being Kind over Being Right. Good Lord! Has Joy been talking behind my back?

I’d only scratched the surface and already the finger was pointing squarely at me. No doubt about it. No denying it. I am a real pro at sweating the small stuff – a Hall-of-Famer.

I wasn’t always like this. Time was when I didn’t give a damn about stuff that would send me for a loop today. Not only did I not sweat the small stuff, I often didn’t even sweat the big stuff.

So, when did the it-is-what-it-is guy become Chicken Little? My metamorphosis was incremental and undetected until one day in a rare moment of introspection I suddenly realized I’d shifted 180 degrees over the years.

The internet doesn’t help. Time to buy new winter tires. In the old days, I’d breeze into the tire store, pony up the cash and leave 30 minutes later with 4 brand new black donuts. No big deal. Today, I labour for hours over my iPad to determine which are the best for snow, the best for ice, the best for dry pavement and the most durable. It’s overkill, generates a lot of sweat and still leaves me wondering if I’ve made the right choice.

At the end of it all, I’ll be exhausted, confused and lucky if I’ve saved a couple of bucks. Why bother? Save yourself for a battle you can win, George.

And some days there just doesn’t seem enough time to fit everything in. Early morning doctor’s appointment, haircut before noon, cut the grass, and on top of all that, I still have to find the time to squeeze in a few extra steps to reach 10,000 and keep my Fitbit happy. Not to mention the compulsory restorative nap. Goodness, all that must eat up at least three, maybe four hours of my day. Overwhelming! Just thinking about it kickstarts my sweat glands.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Many of my contemporaries also swear that sweating the small stuff is just part of the aging process like wonky knees and bifocals. Why is that?

Does our ability to cope and multi-task deteriorate with age? Maybe coping is like a muscle that atrophies with disuse. Back in the day, life was a nonstop juggling act. Demanding job, young kids, aging parents, mortgage payments, home maintenance and on and on.

It was one continuous coping process and we managed relatively painlessly. We were like elite athletes relentlessly exercising that coping muscle, so it was in great shape and functioned optimally.

These days, most of those pressures are history. We have fewer stressors in our lives but stress a lot more over a lot less. We sweat the small stuff in ways we never thought possible. That is a problem.

While I still like my coping muscle theory, I don’t think the solution is to invite more stress into our lives in order to whip that withered muscle back into shape. That would be a mug’s game.

Perhaps the answer is as close as the brittle pages of that little book. And, perhaps I could start, as Dr. Carlson suggests, by asking myself, “Will this matter a year from now?”

Story by:
George Smith

Illustration by:
Charles Bongers

[Summer 2020 departments]