A Law of Life: [UPDATED]

October 2, 2010 at 6:05 am (By Amba)

It’s never what you expect.  Ever notice that?

This is why worrying is a completely useless activity and a waste of life.  You’re always worrying about the wrong thing.  It’s always something else, something out of left field that blindsides you, that you never would have imagined in a million years.

Worrying is a futile attempt to control, to be prepared.  It ends up with you experiencing two (or more) misfortunes — the one(s) you imagine in gory detail and the unimaginable one that then thumps you on the head.  Mark Twain:  “I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.”

“Expect the unexpected.”  That and “Persevere.”  That’s a good part of all the wisdom there is.

UPDATE: And the rest of it is:  “Be awake.”


  1. Tweets that mention A Law of Life: « Ambiance -- Topsy.com said,

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Annie Gottlieb, Sissy Willis. Sissy Willis said: "You’re always worrying about the wrong thing" RT @amba12: Expect ONLY the unexpected. http://bit.ly/acKc0p […]

  2. realpc said,

    But did you think about this — the things that go wrong are things you never worried about BECAUSE you didn’t worry about them! At least sometimes, that could be true. So for example, maybe you worry a lot about getting hit by a bus, and you never worry about getting hit by a train. And then you get hit by a train, the very thing you never expected and never worried about. But maybe it was BECAUSE you were careful about not getting in front of moving buses, but you were careless about trains.

    i don’t disagree that worrying can be destructive and unhelpful. It’s a question of degree, and of how you define “worry.” Worrying can be a waste of time, it can be exhausting and can make us feel hopeless. There is ALWAYS something to worry about. Even if the sun is shining and the bills are all paid, we can still worry that some day we will die.

    Worrying about things we have no control over is useless and unhealthy. Will Iran get nuclear weapons? Unless you are the US president you probably don’t have much control over it. But if you ARE the US president, then you better worry about that.

    What exactly is “worrying?” Is it problem-solving and problem-avoiding, or just useless thinking in circles? it is probably a combination. If I fail to worry about something that I should be worrying about, then bad things can happen.

    So I think what we have to do is “worry” about problems to a limited degree, and be aware when we start going in circles. I very often ask the Infinite intelligent Universe for help, because I very seldom can find an answer just by thinking. Thinking goes in circles and becomes useless worrying because we never have all the information we need. But the Infinite Intelligent Universe always has all the information.

    If some area of my life has problems I might try to ignore it and not think about it. But that could lead to a disaster. I have to remember and be aware, at least sometimes, that something is wrong. It doesn’t have to ruin my whole day but it has to at least be in the background, so I can remember to pray about it and get answers.

    You can probably tell I have worried an awful lot about the subject of worrying.

  3. Donna B. said,

    Well… there is certainly obsessive and unhealthy worrying, but not all worrying is of that type. It can be productive and lead to solutions sometimes. I think it really does boil down to whether I’m worrying about something I have control over or not.

    It’s the “eating” aspect of worrying that can get out of control, that can go from eating away at a problem to eating away at the worrier.

  4. amba12 said,

    You can probably tell I have worried an awful lot about the subject of worrying.


    Two words in your comment, real, stood out for me: BE AWARE. That’s probably the third piece of vital wisdom. Don’t worry, but be aware. You can’t anticipate everything that can happen, but if you are aware, you’ll react quickly to stupid, risky things done by others, and you’ll do fewer stupid, risky things yourself.

    I have been very lucky. I’ve done stupid, risky things because I was on automatic pilot — sleepwalking — and I’ve been lucky enough so that no major harm was done, and the near miss scared me so bad it became a wake-up call so that I am now deliberately aware every time I’m in the same situation and at least will not do THAT particular stupid, risky thing ever again. It might even generalize to being more aware in more situations.

    I don’t remember if I wrote about this prime example. We drove to the karate dojo and when it came time to unfold the wheelchair ramp, I lowered it to the ground BEFORE getting J out. I was thinking about something else, operating automatically, and something about the weird curvature of the Durham streets — the van tilts toward the curb, and the ramp is closer than usual to the street and slants down — caused my brain to misfire in a completely illogical way.

    I got back in the van, tipped J back, leaned him on me — and pushed him under the too-low lift frame and over the edge instead of onto the ramp, which was not where it should have been. He dropped two feet like a stone, wheelchair and all; I was yanked forward and slammed my throat against the lift frame. (The funniest part was that two green-belt students stood and watched me commit this patent idiocy without comment or warning; I guess they thought my seniority meant I must know what I was doing, or else they were just too paralyzed by protocol to point out that their dojo senior was acting like an idiot.)

    J was shook up, and I had a sore throat for a couple of days. Either one of us could have been seriously injured, but we weren’t. I felt lucky that it happened, and happened exactly as it did, because I’ll sure as hell never do THAT again.

    So I’m adding “Be aware” — or maybe better, “Be awake” — to the list.

  5. Donna B. said,

    Expect the Unexpected. Be Awake. Be Aware. Be Prepared. What… do these have to do with worry???

    Worry is thinking about a KNOWN problem, isn’t it?

    So, I’m confused. What else is new?

  6. amba12 said,

    All they have to do with worry is that someone who is worrying is probably not doing any of the above. S/he is expecting the expected, hesitating to act for fear of doing the wrong thing, and is so preoccupied s/he is at risk of falling into an open manhole cover.

  7. William O. B'Livion said,


    Not very well written and about 3 times longer than it needed to be (at least for me), but it is something we should all keep in mind.

    Don’t *worry* about it, because by definition you cannot predict the Black Swan, but you can *plan* for it.

  8. amba12 said,

    Although I haven’t read the book yet, I read Taleb’s website and aphorisms all the time and get a big kick out of his thinking — brilliant, contrarian common sense. (He absolutely refuses to be copyedited, by the way, which could explain the flaws you mention.)

    He also talks about what he calls “robustness” and redundancy — how to make systems Black Swan-proof. It’s sort of like, you don’t build a house of cards in an earthquake zone. You keep things modestly sized and multiple. If one generator gets knocked out, there’s a backup. That kind of thing.

  9. Donna B. said,

    I suspect then, that I come from a family culture of non-worriers. At least not worriers of the type y’all are describing – we would call that “fretting” and would mean it in the corrosive sense.

    This is probably semantic confusion on my part.

  10. Donna B. said,

    Taleb is sometimes fun to read and usually enlightening. My translation of robustness and redundancy is “prepare for the worst, expect the best, accept what actually happens”. That last part is the most difficult.

  11. realpc said,

    There is often a semantic problem with advice about worrying. Jesus told his followers not to worry about getting clothes or food — they flowers don’t have to worry about that, so why should they? But every time I hear that advice I imagine starving naked people — if we don’t worry about food and clothes we won’t have any. But maybe the phase should be “concern ourselves with” instead of worry about. If “worry” means the same as “fret,” then it’d different from being concerned with something and paying attention to it.

    But it is a hazy line between being concerned with getting money, in order to buy food, clothes, etc., and fretting about money. I suppose a person who has faith — in God, the Intelligent Universe, or humanity, or whatever — is not likely to fret. They do the work required to take care of themselves, and then have faith that it will be good enough.

    i very often find it hard to separate “worry about” from “pay attention to.” I don’t want to think about how to get money and pay bills, etc., so without some kind of painful nagging feeling I would forget all about it. That painful nagging feeling is what I think of as “worry.”

  12. amba12 said,

    I suspect worry is originally connected with that other w-word: weather. People must have had post-traumatic stress from bad winters or droughts or monsoons, and they must have anticipated and worried and prognosticated and propitiated about the dangerous season coming. They could not control the weather (though they must have tried with ritual, magic, prayer, and sacrifice), they could only prepare for the worst. Maybe all the worry about climate change is a reawakening of that instinct.

  13. realpc said,

    “They could not control the weather (though they must have tried with ritual, magic, prayer, and sacrifice)”

    Amba, you are being a materialist here. We DO NOT KNOW if magic can sometimes work. We just simply do not know. Materialism has infiltrated our culture so completely we never imagine that magic, prayer, sacrifice and rituals could be more than silly superstitions. But consider Dean Radin’s research — and he does get real results, and so do other researchers — showing thoughts having an influence. We should have a little MORE respect for pre-modern people and much LESS respect for our own pseudo-wisdom.

  14. Icepick said,

    S/he is expecting the expected, hesitating to act for fear of doing the wrong thing, and is so preoccupied s/he is at risk of falling into an open manhole cover.

    Which reminds me of Mel Brookes definitions of tragedy and comedy. I don’t remember it exactly (and I believe he has changed particulars at times) but it’s something like this:

    “Tragedy is when I get a paper cut. Comedy is when you fall into an open manhole and die.”

  15. William O. B'Livion said,

    “prepare for the worst, expect the best, accept what actually happens”

    It *can* get worse than that, but frankly not by much. Or maybe that’s “bad” but worse is something that leaves you 2000 miles from home with civilization destroyed (let’s say you’re taking a cruise in Alaska and a Jerico scenario happens. What do you have in your two suitcases that will get you across 2000 miles of screwed up former USA?)

    No, most people don’t prepare for the worst, those that do are f’ing loons who live for nothing else–out of some cabin (a *nice* cabin, but still) in central Idaho with a big potato garden and a basement full of .308 and .223.

    Most people prepare stochasticly for a variety of different disasters, if they prepare at all.

    Hell, I’d bet my next paycheck (which at this point is at least 6 weeks off) that most people don’t even have a freaken WILL.

    And that’s the MOST predictable “disaster”, albeit on a fairly micro scale.

    No, we worry about “the worst”, we plan for almost nothing and we hope we’ll muddle through.

    Me? I take a different route. I just figure that if I learn the basics of as many different things as possbile, from combatives to firearms to first aid to gutter medicine to wilderness survival I’ll adapt, improvise, and if not overcome, at least survive.

    And yeah I gotta make a will one of these days.

  16. amba12 said,

    me too.

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