Last night I was in bed with Matthew, and I was reading The Week, which I totally love because it’s like a summary of every idea that has been posed by mainstream media for the last seven days. My only gripe is they should be quoting my blog. Especially for topics about women and work. And in fact, I am putting a link here to Editor-in-Chief William Falk, so this post comes up in his google alerts and he mends his misguided ways.
I worry that I should not be worrying about this. Why can’t I just enjoy a magazine I like?
1. Worry you are not worrying about the right thing.
Matthew is reading What Should We Be Worried About. He says to me, “This is a really good book.”
I say, “Oh.”
I want him to shut up about his books because somehow between now and when I was single and reading a book every night, I have stopped finishing books. Even The Judgment of Paris, which has been touted as an art history page turner. I got tired of impressionists facing rejection year after year after year. Whatever. I know the end of the story.
So Matthew tells me about his book and I feel surly because I wish I could read whole books. But then I remember the John Gottmann book that I quote on this blog all the time, even though I didn’t read it, that says you need to say five good things to your spouse for every one bad thing you say.
I decide I want to save my criticism allowance for an emergency. I have so many criticisms. It’s exhausting to have to come up with so many nice things. But I see an opportunity. I say, “Why do you like the book?”
He says, “It’s people talking about what’s really important.”
“Well. Maybe you’d like to read one?”
“This one from Tor Norretranders about the end of lust.”
“We need to worry about the end of lust?”
“Yeah. Lust helps with natural selection and other basic human necessities.”
I don’t want to be in bed with a guy who is lamenting the end of lust. I want to finish my magazine.
I decide I will use my criticism: “Probably all men think it’s important to worry about the demise of lust, and all women think it’s important to worry about the demise of flexible work schedules.”
Then I say, “Thank you for sharing what you’re reading with me, though.”
Does this count as a noncommittal comment? If there were heaven and hell for spousal comments, this one would go in purgatory. So I decide I still have a criticism in my relationship savings account.
2. Use worries to solve problems.
The next morning I go straight to my email when I wake up, of course, because there’s no better slot machine than the email slot machine.
Now that I’m worrying about worrying, I know that the definition of a good email is one that helps me focus my worrying. I know this because Dr. Martin Rossman says that worry evolved as a function of our imagination (is there a tiger hiding in the savannah?) Some level of worry is good, if it helps us solve problems.
The other thing about worry: it’s sort of the opposite of depression, because depression is not caring. This might explain why people who worry more live longer. So I’m convinced that I just need to focus my worries and make sure I turn something into action.
3. Prioritize your worries. You can only do one at a time.
I come up with two really good emails.
The first good one is from Cassie. She sends me a review of the book Matthew’s reading. I’ll take a book review over the book any day.
Barbara Strauch, science editor of the New York Times, thinks the public doesn’t care enough about science. Brian Eno, activist musician, says we don’t care enough about politics. Noga Arikha, a historian, worries about our collective amnesia.
It all makes sense: these people are top in their field because they focus on one worry and they use the worry to solve a problem.
The second good email comes from Dmitry, our developer who lives in Ukraine. He says:
We’re safe, my city is far from Crimea but very close to Russia and that caused a lot of panic attacks yesterday. About 2000 russians came on buses and beat our protesters which were occupying city administration. Some protesters even were shot, but not to death. We had like 200-300 unarmed people there so this wasn’t even nearly a fair fight. Attackers had at least 2 guns and couple of light and gas grenades, after beating people they ruined entire first floor of the building. They meant to look like our angry anti-protesting citizens. Then they mostly all got drunk and move away to russia by the end of day.
Then he wrote that his son’s third tooth just came in.
What Dmitry really worries about is his son. Brian Eno has the luxury of worrying about not worrying about politics enough because people who are really worried about politics know that politics is about making sure your son is safe.
Norretranders worries about lust, but I want to know how does he manage to say five nice things to his wife for every bad thing he says?
It’s so easy to me to worry about the big ideas. I’m fascinated by politics and and history. I can watch my son’s documentary of the Universe all day long. Did you know that there are ten sextillion moons in the universe? A lot of them have water. So that’s where we are most likely to find other life.
Small concerns, on the other hand, are difficult for me. I wish I got to write a chapter in What Should We Be Worried About. I would say, “Worry about taking time to notice the people right next to us. And care about them. This has been proven to be the key to happiness, but it’s so boring and so difficult.”
In the Harvard Business Review I was shocked to see that what women want from work is social respect and what men want from work is complex challenges. But it shouldn’t have shocked me because we’re all the same: We want something from work that we can’t get from close relationships. So often it seems that there is a smart, efficient rewards system set up for work, coupled with a general disdain for people who want to shun larger, complex systems—work, politics, science—so they can focus on personal relationships – marriage kids, family.
That dichotomy is what we should worry about.