Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

Working with Emily on a wedding last summer reminded me of the book by Richard Carlson, Don’t Swear the Small Stuff-and It’s All Small Stuff: Simple Ways to Keep Little Things from Taking Over Your Life. In the book, Carlson says,

“Often we allow ourselves to get all worked up about things that, upon closer examination, aren’t really that big a deal. We focus on little problems and blow them out of proportion…Whether we had to wait in line, listen to unfair criticism, or do the lion’s share of the work, it pays enormous dividends if we learn not to worry about little things. So many people spend so much of their life energy ‘sweating the small stuff’ that they completely lose touch with the magic and beauty of life.”

dontsweatI overheard Emily’s client talking to her on the phone the day before the wedding discussing every imaginable detail of the wedding, with Emily constantly assuring her not to worry, everything is fine, try to relax. In the meantime, I watched Emily deal with one “crisis” after another-not enough material for curtains for the church, spots on the monogram backdrop she’d been working on for hours, dealing with an angry hairdresser worried about the late arriving bridal party, watching weather to determine if changes needed to made, and learning members of the wedding party stayed out too late after the rehearsal dinner. Then around 2:00 on the day of the wedding, I saw her let go of everything that could go wrong and switch to the “let’s take care of business” mode. I don’t know if she realized it, but there was a calm, relaxed change in her demeanor as she approached the finishing touches of a summer’s worth of work. She suddenly quit “sweating the small stuff” and got to the business of coordinating the wedding. She could see the big picture.

The same weekend Meghan shared a story about a letter she received from the state suggesting that she increase her contribution to her retirement account managed by the state. This angered her immensely since the state cut their contribution to her retirement the month before, required her to contribute more, and now they were asking that she increase her contribution again. She told me she grabbed a Sharpie and wrote on the letter that she had already increased her contribution thanks to the moves of the legislature and the governor. She also suggested the state increase their contribution to match hers. Then she mailed the letter back to the state.

Sarah regularly shares stories about frustrating experiences at work: constant schedule changes, lack of staff, unusual clients, a van that won’t start. In fact, the same weekend she grumbled that the office manager complained she was spending too much money at the grocery and  wasting food. As Sarah explained, of course some of the hamburger buns are going to be wasted since they don’t sell buns in packages of two; and yes, she did throw away a zucchini-it was limp! These constant complaints and problems take the joy out of working with the clients  – the important part of the job.

I think Richard Carlson is right. We shouldn’t sweat the small stuff. Listen to the criticism and make changes if warranted, do your best on projects but don’t stress out over small mistakes (being a perfectionist is not a positive trait), care about your community, state, and national problems but not to the point that you become one of those crazy, angry people constantly miserable and complaining about the government. And don’t sweat the small stuff when it comes to those you care about. So what if the toilet paper isn’t put on the dispenser? Who cares if there are towels on the floor? Does it really matter if the dishes aren’t loaded properly? Don’t let little things eat at you and interfere with your relationships with others; it’s just not worth it.

Now, I disagree with the second part of the title of Carlsons’s book – and It’s All Small Stuff? I don’t think so. During that storm Emily was watching during the wedding, a neighbor had a large tree fall in his yard that he has to remove, his pipes were struck by lightning which caused major flooding in his house, his $5000 generator was fried by the lightning strike so he had no power. That’s more than small stuff. That may be something to sweat. However, when we stopped by his house, after he told the story of the storm damage to his house, he asked if we’d like to go in his backyard to see the work he’d completed over the summer – how can you say no to someone who’s just as excited to show off his hard work as he is to tell about his problem. He certainly was sweating the damage to his house but he was also focused on the big picture – his house, family, and getting back to work.

Finally, the mother of the bride stopped by Sunday to pick up some items left behind at the wedding. It was great to see her quoterelaxed, excited to talk about the day, and laugh about the little things that didn’t go according to her plan. Only a few hours removed from the stress of planning, preparing, and producing a wedding extravaganza, she recognized that none of the small things could spoil the day. Too bad she had to sweat unnecessarily!

If you have time to read the book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, I highly recommend it. Best of all, it’s short with good tips packed in few pages. And in case you think the book may encourage a slacker attitude – not true – just look at the title of Lesson 3: Let Go of the Idea that Gentle, Relaxed People Can’t Be Superachievers; but also take note of the title of Lesson 4: Be Aware of the Snowball Effect of Your Thinking.

It’s not easy, but don’t sweat the small stuff!