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What, Me Worry?

 “After all, the matters which people regard seriously in adult life are seldom less trivial, or indeed very different in kind, from the concerns of the boys at Manitou – the quest for success, the rivalries of cliques, the pursuit of pleasure, the evasion of irksome rules; where are the grownups whose years are not spent in those ways?”    — from City Boy: The Adventures of Herbie Bookbinder by Herman Wouk

Wow, that paragraph hit home when I read it this past month. For those of you (I guess nearly 100% of those present) that haven’t read City Boy: The Adventures of Herbie Bookbinder, it is Wouk’s 1948 novel that tells the tale of an 11-year-old boy growing up in the Bronx. He’s overweight, perhaps too bright for his own good, completely nerdy, and forever trying to understand the ways of the mysterious creatures known as “girls.”  For me, it is a familiar, thought-distant journey…except I was “scrawny.”

In the book, “Manitou” is a summer camp for boys in the Catskills, with a corresponding girls’ camp just over the ridge. 

You could write the story yourself, either from memory or from your imagination, based upon all you’ve read and seen through the years that relate to the angst of growing up in America in the 20th century. It’s almost Shakespearian”: “… a familiar tale, told by an idiot …”

What struck me about the particular paragraph I quoted, however, was the indisputable truth of the life-or-death seriousness of those days and their trials while they lived through them and the seeming triviality of them in hindsight. How did we possibly survive? I can remember to this day, the camp counselor or the elementary teacher that I completely despised; yep, I still feel exactly the same about him/her. 

The object of my loathing was always someone who insisted upon maintaining strict control over the most trivial of rules. I lived in fear of being “in trouble” for breaking the rules. The good news is that these worries only lasted until I was about 45 years of age, or thereabouts.

I was also taught as a youngster that disaster lurked around every corner. 

My mother was a worrier, and she wasn’t satisfied until all present embraced the worry with vigor equal to her own. I don’t know when I became a “plan for the worst, but hope for the best” sort of person, but I wouldn’t have survived to this point if I hadn’t arrived there.  I think it was when I looked around, and discovered I had one wife and three kids and realized the concept of being in control was a complete illusion I had carefully built during my years of bachelorhood. Semi-directed chaos became the standard to which I aspired.

I worked hard as a parent to instill confidence in my children and to attempt to inspire them to follow rules from a sense of seeking good outcomes as opposed to avoiding guilt. 

That, of course, didn’t work. Growing up, lacking the right kind of athletic abilities needed, with too many of the wrong artistic abilities, or the challenges of crooked teeth and teenage acne, inspire almost everyone with the fear and anxiety of not measuring up. And those who do think they are the best thing since sliced bread, are almost always insufferable, so who wants to be them anyway? Those that are neither neurotic nor insufferable are Tim Tebow, and how many of those are there?

As for me, I’ve had a number of careers in my life: 20 years as an engineer, 23 and counting as a financial advisor, 30+ as a parent, 55 as the son of my late parents, and not nearly enough years yet to know what I should be doing as a husband. All of these jobs have severe repercussions if done poorly, selfishly, or cavalierly. So being the neurotic nut-ball you all know and love, how do I function in these demanding times?

I’ll save you the run-down on ethics and character development that are integral to becoming a worthwhile adult since you have that one down pat already (I mean the knowing, not necessarily the doing – we are working on that every day!) and skip straight back to emulating Herbie Bookbinder. 

Yes, studying and preparing for life’s exams is critical to our success, but worrying about the darkest perils of our imagination is fruitless. 

Most of our darkest worries never come to fruition anyway. Those worries that do come to pass require effort and diligence to either overcome or to accept; all worrying ever did for me was wear me down before it was time to get to work on the problem at hand.

Let me tell you a brief story:

I was in Boca Grande for a fishing trip with my friend, whom I don’t like very much. We’ll call him, the Selfish Old Geezer. A third guy in our crew was the Little Fraidy-Cat Weasel. Our task was to get the fourth member of our company, the Boat Captain, to the marina that is located about 500 yards off the island. 

We were in a golf cart at the time (a rental), and going back to the condo to get an actual licensed, legal vehicle would have taken probably ten minutes each way, so that was clearly out of the question.  So here’s what we did: Selfish Old Geezer drove the golf cart off the island to the marina and delivered Boat Captain to his boat, and then, because Selfish Old Geezer realizes it may be problematic getting the golf car back on the island, he jumped on the boat with Boat Captain and told Little Fraidy-Cat Weasel to take the golf cart back to the condo. Little Fraidy-Cat Weasel protests with what I still believe (but he denies) were tear-filled eyes and refuses to drive the golf cart. I (known as the Hero of The Story) said, “Oh, for goodness sake, give me the keys; I’ll drive it back.” The three stooges leave in the boat, and I return to Boca Grande Island. The toll booth troll went ballistic, “You Can’t Take Carts Off The Island!!!” This struck me as particularly nonsensical since I was (a) off the island, albeit by mere feet at this time, and (b) was sitting there in a golf cart that clearly had come from the island.

I replied, “Well, clearly a golf cart has been taken off the island, and now the question is: ‘How do we get it back on the island?’” He did not like this response; the matter was apparently not within his job description. 

He said, “You have to go in there,” pointing at the building with the darkly-tinted windows. Having learned to address conflict by taking it one step at a time, I entered the said building.  While none of the three people within had a plan in place to address our dilemma, they quickly figured it out when I was willing to give them a hundred-dollar bill (they called it a “fine”) and drive back onto the island with a shameful look while being followed by a utility truck, we could resolve the issue.

The issue was resolved. We all lived to collect tolls and drive golf carts another day. 


Now I know that financial problems and disruptive markets are more serious than golf cart issues, but this does not entitle them to worry. 

The truth still remains: worry doesn’t help. Worry is not a solution; it is a symptom indicating that we need to talk and come up with a plan to relieve the worries. Please, if you find yourself worrying about some issue or another, please get in touch with me. Let’s find a time to sit down and work through the issue. We will sort it out together. Like my Uncle Ralph used to say, “Worry causes stress, and stress will kill ya! Get rid of the worry, and get rid of the stress!”

June 2023

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