39/300: Time is Your Friend

It seems like everything is happening all at once. One thing goes wrong, it all goes wrong. Trouble and problems breed like mold spreading across the wall. It all seems so overwhelming. You begin to panic, to freak out. You can’t picture a world in which it all goes away.

I’ve been there. You’ve been there. We’ve all been there. And it’s easy to lose yourself in the things that seem crushing, that seem to box you in from all sides. But life, like water, moves on, it keeps going, it finds the lowest point and rushes in that direction.

A lot of people will give in, throw in the towel, give up. But there has never been a problem that can’t be fixed. There’s no challenge in your life that can’t be overcome. There are no combinations of challenges that can’t be broken down and overcome.

I used to have panic attacks. Bad panic attacks. It would feel like I couldn’t breath, like I couldn’t see straight. I was afraid of everything – my own shadow. My heart would race. My head would spin. I wouldn’t sleep. I’d overeat. I’d be antsy all the time. And maybe it’s a sign of maturity, maybe it’s just growing up, but I’ve learned that worry, panic, fear – none of them are real, none of them matter.

I was watching the movie “Bridge of Spies” yesterday while helping the kids prepare my wife’s birthday breakfast. It’s based on a true story about the negotiations that brought American U2 pilot Francis Gary Powers home after he was shot down over the Soviet Union. Tom Hanks plays the civilian negotiator who worked the deal to trade captured Russian spy Rudolph Abel for Powers and an American student. An exchange is planned as as Hanks is walking Abel across a bridge, he asks the spy what he thinks will happen to him when he is returned to Russian authorities. It could go either way, the Abel character says. He’ll either be embraced or shot.

“Are you worried?” Hanks’ character asks. Abel turns, looks quizzically and deeply at Hanks and replies, “Would it help?”

There’s a lot of truth in that moment, a lot to be said about the power of worry. I once heard someone say that worry is like a rocking chair- it gives you something to do, but gets you nowhere.

I know a lot of people with a lot of worry right now. They see the walls closing in. The troubles, the problems, the challenges are mounting. I’ve been there. I still find myself there sometimes. It’s natural to want to close your eyes and make it all go away; you wish it would all just go away and you start to think desperately about a magic bullet, a golden solution that will reset your life in one felled swoop.

But life doesn’t work that way.

You have to remove yourself from the moment. You have to see the challenges and problems for what they are – opportunities. Opportunities to learn, to reflect, to prove yourself capable of more than what you thought you were. You have to see them as temporary obstacles. They do not define you as a person. They are not the sum total of your life. And there will be more of them.

Don’t try to solve everything at once. Instead, take each as they come. Analyze them. Devise small ways to chip away and remember that time is your friend. You have time. You have time to work away at problems and working away at them is the light that keeps the worry monster at bay.

It’s natural to look at a problem or challenge and see it in its entirety. That’s how the walls close in. That’s how you get crushed. Instead, find the perspective to see those same challenges as their component parts. Money problems are aggregate. Emotional problems are mosaics. Relationship problems are giant games of Jenga. Work on one piece at a time. Fix one piece of glass. Make one better financial decision each day.

You’ll get through it before you know it and you’ll have learned that there’s nothing you can’t get through, no problem you can’t manage if you only give yourself the space to breath, to consider the options and to take the next step instead of completing the marathon.

Success and failure are results, not strategies or plans. Big success, big failure, they happen over time. Real success is the next step. Real failure is refusing to take that same step. Worry is a lie. Stress and panic are distractions and resistance. Make time your friend and take the next step. Don’t worry about the ones that will follow, because, after all, ‘would it help?’

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