Ok maybe that’s a bit strong, but it’s catchy, right?
I do care deeply about many things…perhaps this should be entitled, Why I Don’t Worry.
A friend of mine recently passed away at age 41 of breast cancer. Another died a few years back of a brain tumor. Another in his early 30s just landed in the hospital with a brutal immune system ailment, though it looks like he’ll be okay. And the event that really precipitated this attitude for me: my brother died in November 2006 of a heart problem.
On November 20, 2006, I was just leaving a doctor appointment with an orthopedic guy for a chronic right hamstring injury that had been bothering me for several years. As I pulled out of the garage at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, my brother Will called me on my cell phone. He was crying, and I had never heard him cry before in my life. “Jay’s dead,” he sobbed. I listened in shock.
Early in the morning on that day in November, about 4:30 AM Denver time, Jay was at his desk in his office downstairs. His wife and two young children, eight and six, were upstairs sleeping. He had been having a hard time sleeping since starting a new business as a hedge fund manager about a year before. Prior to that, he had been a successful portfolio manager for Oppenheimer in New York City, and then after that the chief investment officer for Berger Associates, a mutual fund company that was bought out by Janus. Jay was the superstar of the family, from a success standpoint, even surpassing our dad, who was a senior partner at a large Denver law firm. Jay appeared on Wall Street Week, was a regular on CNBC, and was frequently quoted in the financial press, including a page-one quote in the Wall Street Journal (pre-Murdoch!) on my 40th birthday in July of 2000. He seemed to have it all – charity board memberships, a great golf game, a lovely wife, two gorgeous children and many good friends. He was very bright, compassionate, selfless and had a wonderful sense of humor. He always looked for the good in people and in life generally.
But as he sat there, working at his computer, he was unaware that he had an aneurism in his aorta that had been undetected, despite several visits to the doctor that year in order to get his high blood pressure under control. One by-product of Jay’s career success was that he didn’t take the best care of himself. He was, in many ways, a workaholic. At 4:30 AM, the aneurism burst and Jay died instantly. His head tilted just to one side, and his eyes were open, indicating virtually no struggle. He was 53 years old.
(I will be 52 this summer.)
In my shock at learning the news, one of my first thoughts was, “What does this mean for me?” Of course that was mixed in with the extreme sadness, loss, worry for his wife and children, for both my parents (I delivered the news to both of them), for my brother Will, who was just 18 months younger than Jay, for my sister, and above all, a numbing feeling of stunned shock.
I was almost upset with myself at this seemingly selfish thought about what it meant for me. But it gnawed at me, and I concluded fairly soon afterward that what it really meant was the age-old truism: life is short. And this was not just some trite cliche. It hit me very profoundly. I was 46 and a half and was not far behind Jay. If he was gone now, I reasoned, my time might not be far behind. And even if not – even if I lived another 50 years, which I fully planned on doing – it would go fast, like the blink of an eye. It was already speeding up. Months clicked by like weeks…years blended in and out, making it harder each year to distinguish one from another. And this was something Jay and I used to talk about – it was he who first introduced me to relative time in the aging process: the fact that, on a relative basis, time really is shorter when you are older, because each unit is a smaller percentage of your entire life. When you’re 10, a year makes up a whopping 10% of your whole life; when you’re 40, it’s only 1/40th. And, no surprise, it seems to go by a lot faster as a result.
So I pondered for the next several months, after the finality of the funeral and the ensuing digestion of his death working its way through my psyche. I had been a great worrier for most of my life, struggling, craving, yearning, wanting to be “great” (yet having no idea how to get to that elusive goal), worrying about how I would pay the bills, fearful of a great many things, both in my career and personal life. In my career, which took up most of my worrying capacity, I had spent most of my time since college trying to figure it out (in addition to Jay’s success, I had two cousins were were famous ballerinas in the New York City Ballet).
But after this, I suddenly no longer cared. Jay worked, and strived, and worked, and strived, and…dropped dead at 53. But that’s what he wanted to do…that’s what drove him. So it was okay. But he wasn’t ready to go – of that I’m quite sure. He would have wanted to continue being a loving husband to his wife and especially to watch his girls grow up. He would have wanted to continue the close relationship with his son from his first marriage, watching him graduate from college and move onto a successful career.
During my long, tedious and overly litigious (not my choice…it just turned out that way) divorce process, I experienced a tremendous amount of anxiety, anger and stress. I thought I was done with it after Jay died, but again, I worried about what would become of me, now that I was financially decimated. This, in addition to the emotional aspect, which, as I recently described to a friend, reduces you to a wrecked blob of frayed nerves, quivering on the floor (ok maybe that’s a bit much, but it’s a fun image, yes?).
So after all that, and learning how to deal with it (hello, meditation!), I have reached a state where I feel virtually impenetrable. There’s just not a whole lot that can rattle my cage anymore. When your number is up, it’s up, as I have seen with Jay and so many others. Not a whole lot you can do about it, so why worry? As for the rest, you can always rebuild; money is just money…it can be made and lost many times over in a lifetime – it’s so not worth worrying about. As a good friend said to me when I was worried about losing my job due to corporate restructuring (I did lose it), “Do you have enough money for today?”
“Then you have enough money.”
“But what if I lose my job??”
“You’ll get another f-ing job!!”
The infamous slogan of Alfred E. Neumann, Mad magazine’s iconic frontman, was “What, me worry?” It’s not such a bad one to live by. Take care of the things that matter. And don’t worry, because it won’t do any good.