What Are You Worrying About?

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This morning, I ran the vacuum over the living room carpet to pick up the leaves the animals have dragged in.  It wasn’t the most thorough job—just a spit-shine because the baby is coming over and I don’t want her putting leaves in her mouth.

For some reason, as I moved the footstool aside, I thought of how much I used to worry about things being messy when my boys were young.  I’m not mis-remembering; they were often really messy—piles of clothes to be washed or to be put away, toys and shoes and coats and books everywhere.  It was a crowded little house, four rooms in a row downstairs, two big rooms upstairs, and four people cozied up in there with various hobbies and interests and friends.

Only I never let my friends come to my house. Ever.  We had a writing critique group and we always met somewhere else.  I was embarrassed about the old carpets, some of which had been salvaged from a hotel renovation; the ancient kitchen (truly, for awhile it was the worst kitchen in the world) and the constant clutter that I could sweep away on Saturday and would reappear on Sunday, exactly as it had been, as if the objects all had souls that animated them and they moved around at will.

This morning, with twenty years between me and the woman who worried about those carpets, it struck me as tragic that I’d been so worried about what my friends would think of my housekeeping that I wouldn’t let them come over.  They lived in newer places, all of them, but my own house was a charming old beauty, full of light and my special quirky loveliness.  Not everyone’s taste, but comfortable, welcoming.  How did I not understand that?

It is the same unfounded worry that makes us all, as teenagers, exaggerate some imaginary or real flaw—a big nose or skinniness or fatness—into some Major Thing That Everyone Is Noticing.  When actually, they are so worried about their own flaws they don’t even see ours.

Which led me to wondering what I worry about now that might be just as tragic.  What impossible standard am I setting?

It’s not so much about appearances these days.  For one thing, there are no armies of seven year old boys racing through the house, and I don’t live in that small, charming old house, but a spacious suburban sweetie that has plenty of space to put things away.  I still have to clear the clutter away regularly, trying to find the kitchen counter or the surface of my desk, but even if my friends come over and see the big mess, I don’t think they won’t love me.  They do.

I feel a certain freedom in my physical appearance, too.  I accept it, flaws and all, even if I don’t like pictures of myself all that much sometimes.

What I do worry about, all the time, is about attaining a certain level of perfection, of No-Flawness, maybe like Snow White or Belle,  that would render me then a Really Wonderful Friend and Human Being, on every single level.  Kind, always.  Never lazy.  Never grumpy. Always well turned out, instead of sometimes running to the grocery store in yoga pants with my hair in a ponytail.   In my imaginary perfectness, I would never drink too much coffee and give myself indigestion, or too much wine and give myself a hangover.  I’d eschew sugar and bad fats and eat clean and green.  I would listen earnestly to someone who wants to talk out a problem and probably be able to balance my granddaughter on my hip while stirring a pot and writing a novel, all at the same time.

But if I were that woman, who would even want to be my friend? I mean, seriously—would you? I wouldn’t!

In Sharon Salzman’s book Real Happiness, she writes about the Buddhist practice of Lovingkindness as a way of loving ourselves and others unconditionally.  Science tells us that it can be learned, she says.

“It is the ability to take risks with our awareness—to look at ourselves and others with kindness instead of reflexive criticism….to care for ourselves unconditionally instead of thinking, “I will love myself as long as I never make a mistake.”

That phrase, “reflexive criticism” caught me.  I recognized the action instantly, that meanness, that monkey-mind judgment that so often shows up with a really nasty undernote and narrowed eyes and passes judgment on something or someone or myself.

Anna Quidlen says we begin the work of authentically becoming ourselves when we let go of being perfect.  That sounds really lovely to me right now, a person who has been worrying about things for decades, only to find most of them weren’t worth a single moment of my precious hours.

So today, I’m just going to go with imperfection.  I’m going with love, that simple answer to every question. Every question. Love. Toward me and my work and the people around me and even the people who irritate me, and maybe in that way, my heart will be more open to the everyday, to my friends and my children and the lady at the grocery store who shoves her cart in front of mine, and even, maybe, myself.

Can you think of a time when you worried a lot about something that ended up not mattering very much? Are there things you worry about now that it might be better to put down?


23 thoughts on “What Are You Worrying About?

  1. I loved this. I desperately worry about my weight, and it gets so very tiring. I had that cute little size 7 figure in high school and college, but since I had my daughter 12 years ago and lots of health ailments, I no longer have that cute figure. I really need to let go of that dream – because let’s face it, I am NOT going to be able to get back to size 7. And if I do, will that make my life suddenly perfect and happy? Nope. What I want to focus on is being healthy and taking care of myself the best that I can and balance that out with everything else.

    The longer I live, the more I’m coming to realize that life really is about balance.

  2. How perfect! I stumbled upon this in my feed this morning when I absolutely needed the reminder. Thank you!

  3. Melissa, that’s a perfect example. Love the self you are now.

    So true, about balance. So true and so challenging!

    Laura, glad it helped.

  4. stephanie

    Thanks for the good message. It’s something I’ve thought a lot about lately. I just don’t have an answer yet.

  5. Barbara, I am the QUEEN of worry-warts. Always have been. It’s in my genes.

    And, almost anything I’ve ever worried about didn’t matter very much in the end. I just want to be a good person. Do my best. And, that’s a sliding scale, because I greet the world a different person every morning. One with another day of experiences with which to make better decisions.

    And, I bet your house was never unpresentable. xo

  6. I heard once that in order to let go of something I don’t like about myself, I have to learn to love and accept it–me, really–just as it is. So for today I love my round, menopausal belly.

  7. Gaylin

    I recently got together with friends from high school (over 35 years ago). I didn’t stay married, didn’t have kids, live in a 700 sq ft apartment and generally enjoy my life. At one point in time I would have tried to impress them or be someone I am not. Not anymore. I was just as comfortable in my friends 7,000 sq ft house as I was with them coming here to my small world, after all, if I like my world why would I worry about what they think.

    Funny thing about getting together with them, I used to be a size 6, tiny weightlifter and now am a size 10, regular sized and shaped woman. They all kept telling me how skinny I am now . . . I just kept saying thank you.

  8. For many years I wouldn’t have my crit group at my house. My husband is a hoarder. Some of the hoarders on the TV program are rank amateurs. But about a year ago, I decided it’s my home too. I cleaned out the kitchen. There’s a bathroom that opens off my kitchen, and I cleaned that out too. Now my crit group comes over every 6 weeks or so. Does my husband like it? Nope, but it’s my house too. I pay half the bills with my day job. I should get to use it too. My crit partners understand. And we’re cozy.
    I miss having friends in. When I was single, I would have people in for drinks, for dinner, to watch college basketball. All of that went away when I got married. I miss it. Desperately.

  9. Diane Russom Harrison

    Brava Barbara!
    What a gift this blog is to me today. I have struggled all my life with trying to be perfect OR perhaps I should say what I perceived as perfect. I am trying to be kinder to myself these days, less judgemental when I find that everything in my universe is not under my control.
    I have entered in NANOWRIMO and while reading your blog realized that I am doing it again. Wanting what I write to be perfect; worrying about being judged and found lacking. Oh, it’s such an isidious worm that crawls up inside my head causing me to doubt my instincts, my efforts, my achievements.
    Tomorrow morning I will look into my mirror and say, “Remember what Barbara said.” Thank you and Bless you!

  10. Andra, and you are so beautiful, smart, and funny. (Friends, her blog is quite good.)

  11. Stephanie, one of my friends wears a bracelet to remind her not to worry. It’s funny, too, how most of the major religions teach us to let go of fretting, so it’s been a problem through all of time.

    Good job, Geri. I will say the same today: I love my soft and comfy middle. That’s what my darling says, “You are so soft.” In a good way. 🙂

    Perception, right, Gaylin? Looking at something from the right direction.

  12. Hugs, Molly, and bravo on taking steps toward reclaiming your house and the things that make you happy.

  13. Yay, Diane. NaNo is meant to be a big fun race, not something to make you feel worse, so I’m glad you found a way to feel more peaceful. xoxo

  14. What a glorious piece! I am still at the “armies of boys” tearing through the house phase, still agonizing over every scuff mark, speck of dust, and stray pillow. I’ll spend two days straightening before guests come over, so concerned about what they think and how harshly they may judge me. I kick myself every time. I know it doesn’t matter, it shouldn’t matter. I’m waiting for the wisdom to sink in.

  15. You can do it, Kerry Ann. Love it as it is.

  16. Carolyn Greene

    Wow, struck a nerve. Thanks for the perspective.

  17. RBLRobin

    Wonderful, I love this blog!! My house is 25 years old, needs painting and is no where near as nice as my friends brand new house, so I understand about not wanting to invite people over. The backyard is a mess but the inside is clean and relatively neat, so I go with what I have and keep it moving.

    I find myself always judging myself more than others. I’m so hard on myself. I push myself to get things done that in the big scheme of things don’t really matter. Who cares if the filing isn’t done til the weekend? Who cares if the coat closet needs to be cleaned out? I find myself working to do things when hubby goes out golfing…I really need to relax more and stop making so many lists!

  18. geraldine McCarthy

    I’ll be 84 next month. If you live that long it gets easier to let go of:
    people and things that seemed SO important, situations, possessions and outdated assumptions. To quote my mother” It will all be the same 100 years from now.

  19. Geraldine, thanks for weighing in. I bet it does get easier.

  20. Hi Barb.

    I love what Anna Quindlen says about letting go of being perfect. The same issues that plagued you for years plague me also. My house – I would love to entertain my friends but my house is the most humble of all of my friends’ homes and, well, so, I haven’t invited them here. It’s something that just doesn’t matter because if they love me, they won’t care about what my home is like, and I should realize that! It’s nutty, the things we obsess about – for me, besides my house, it’s my weight, my uncontrollable hair, my shoes which never seem to match what I’m wearing, my this or that. I have to learn to just let it go. It doesn’t make me a better person to be flawless…

    So I’m going to embrace not being perfect too. Thank you for sharing – it’s comforting to know we all share the same issues.

  21. It was the first time, I succeeded making audience laugh of a personal story I have written, I was 65 around us barns in middle of France. And the story was about my (long) nose. About how I suddenly realised at 40 after separating from my cheating husband, that I had a long nose.

    I was always worried of my skin, freckles, before.

    I decided, as my father’s second wife suggested to let a surgeon cut it short, then perhaps men would look at me. How can they with that long nose? I was telling me.

    An old gentleman, my 75 old aunt’s lover, persuaded me that my nose is part of my interesting character. And taught me the method to make man come after me and gave me back my courage. A year later, in USA, I found out he was right. And my nose never bothered me ever.

    Now in London, UK, at 77 I become standup comedian. Love the audience who gives it back to me despite my age, my heavy body, my skin, and of course my nose. Character and personality and loving them makes the real contact between them and me. I can use in comedy routine all my failures, foibles, shortcomings and laugh together about them, and how I overcome them or realised they are not important, a lot less then it seemed to me at first.

  22. Dona Delenick

    Hi, I think your website might be having browser compatibility issues. When I look at your blog in Safari, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, great blog!

  23. Orpha Eland

    Hello! I’ve been reading your site for some time now and finally got the courage to go ahead and give you a shout out from Atascocita Texas! Just wanted to mention keep up the great job!

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