once saw a statistic on Instagram—so you know it’s credible—that 85 percent of the things we worry about never happen. I definitely believe this, and since I spend my entire day worrying, it means that 85 percent of the things I think about in a day are never going to happen. Now, I don’t simply think these thoughts and let them go. I actually take them seriously, break them down, and consider them so that when (not if) they happen, I am prepared.
Here are some examples of things I worry about happening that never will:
- That a war will start while I’m out grocery shopping without documents and I’ll be arrested for going around without my papers: yes, I’m Jewish, and yes, my relatives did escape fascism and Nazism. Even so, with 80 years of dilution between then and now, I still hate going around without ID in case I need to validate my identity at any given moment.
- Accidentally tripping and opening the emergency exit on a plane: I used to be a gangly child with arms longer than I could manage. I’ve seen them knock things down that were supposedly out of range. I also used to have a very aggressive fear of flying. Mixing long arms, fear of flying, and my over-active imagination means that even now, anytime I walk to the bathroom on a plane or see people standing around by the toilets, I am tightly wound as I prepare myself for what I’ll do in case someone stumbles and activates the lever that opens the pressurized emergency exits at 34,000 feet in the air.
- Leaning against a part of the building that is weak and reducing the building to rubble: everyone knows that infrastructure is crumbling in America. What if I help it along by accidentally reclining against the building at a delicate but hidden fault-line that finally cracks the structural integrity of the edifice? And what if I do this in New York, creating a domino effect reduces the city to a post-apocalyptic wasteland like in “Planet of the Apes”?
- Giving terrible advice that implodes someone’s life because I subconsciously had a reason: Freud might have been wrong about a lot of things, but we do have subconscious impulses. And we’ve all had moments when we’ve realized that we felt differently about something than we thought. Well, what if I think I’m genuinely helping out a friend by telling them to quit their job only to them watch them flounder and lose their high income all while I rise through the ranks in their stead because I hadn’t forgiven them for stretching out my sweater in middle school even though I totally thought I had? Does it matter to my anxiety that I don’t even work in a corporation with a friend? Of course not. What does matter is worrying that I am radioactive waste, secretly degrading things around me.
- That I accidentally have holdings in Zimbabwe that I haven’t declared for years: Tax season just passed us, and like always I filed my taxes seven weeks ahead of the deadline, which feels great. At first. Until the deadline passes and suddenly I’m haunted by lists of countries I’ve never set foot in, let alone worked in, wondering if I had any income there that I did not declare and will thus be going to jail for once the IRS catches onto me.
And then here are a few examples of things I don’t worry about but absolutely should because they are very real possibilities.
- If that smell is a gas leak: Every now and then, I smell gas in my apartment. I can’t decide if it’s worth the hassle of calling the landlord or whether the repeated low exposure will make me stronger and impervious to leaks over time.
- That there is mold in my walls: I know there is. I think my wet bathrobe makes a wet spot when the door to the bathroom is open and pushed against the wall. Question is—did I really start it? And it’s very small, so how much bigger can it get before I really need to start worrying? At least until it’s the size of my face, right?
- That being tall isn’t enough to discourage an assault: I’ve felt like a lumbering beast all my life, a cross between an ostrich and a mammoth, and while most days I hate being an Ostr-moth, I also try to make the most of the benefits. Meaning, I’m such a large target, no one would attack me for nefarious purposes. What I picture is those scenes in nature videos where I’m the wild buffalo that needs seven lions working together to be taken down. That being said, I think I’m over-confident about how much my 5’9’’ frame dissuades people.
Of course, the problem is that while 85 percent of those things won’t happen, there is a sneaky little 15 percent that they will. Interestingly, as far as worries go, life is not stranger than fiction. The worries that usually do end up materializing are reasonable ones. The downside? That no matter how far and wide I go with my fantasies, often things I did not anticipate in my musings end up happening. This should lead me to conclude that it’s a waste of effort to worry at all. But being an overachiever, the only message I see is this: try harder, think bigger, go wider. And so, I will.