Last week I wrote about UFOs and about how activity peaks when world events seem threatening and uncertain (like what the heck is the president going to do next), as opposed to when bad things truly happen (like a fire or a hurricane). I noticed that I got a new follower that day – welcome! – and hoped she wouldn’t be disappointed since I rarely write about flying saucers. But here we are again!
I’m one of those people who always think of the perfect thing to say after the moment has passed. It’s always later, when I’m describing an incident to my husband or a friend, when I suddenly smack myself on the forehead and say, “Oh I should have said this!”
And that happened with last week’s UFO post. Last night I was describing the post to a friend who doesn’t follow the blog (ahem) and wondered why I wrote about UFOs. I described how people displace their anxiety about an uncertain event into something intangible – and then it hit me why this so resonates with me and why I felt compelled to write about it.
I do this, too.
No, I don’t see aliens.
But I am at my most anxious when things are uncertain. Last year, I needed to do a presentation to a client. The information I would be presenting was new material, which didn’t phase me, I knew it pretty well. But I couldn’t get the computer to do what I needed it to do and there was some question about whether it would be fixed in time for my presentation. It wasn’t anything I could do anything about – the tech guys were doing everything they could and I needed to trust that they would get it to work, but they just weren’t sure they could, and it was pretty uncertain until the very last minute.
If someone had said, “Hey this just isn’t going to work,” I could have let go and come up with another plan (back to flipcharts, y’all!). But no one wanted to do that.
And it took over my life. My friend, Tony, likes to say that I am OCD without the C – I obsess about things, but I’m not compulsive about things. Well, I obsessed over this uncertainty like you wouldn’t believe. It colored everything I was working on at work. I’d meet with other clients but in the back of my mind, I had a sword hanging over me. When I wasn’t actively working with other clients, I went back to my presentation material and reviewed it and reviewed it until I convinced myself that I didn’t really know the material and then I really went nuts.
My house was a mess, my cat was a mess, my husband was a mess. None of my clothes looked right. And my laptop bag. Don’t get me started on my laptop bag. I had been searching for a new laptop bag for months and I couldn’t find one and I had to have the perfect laptop bag for this trip. So I displaced my discomfort with uncertainty about the system into a quest for the perfect laptop bag. I knew exactly what I wanted: it had to look elite (work requirement) but not like a laptop bag (my requirement), and it had to protect my laptop and also hold a pair of shoes and it had to cost less than $150. I live in the greatest city in the world with hundreds, thousands, possibly millions of stores that sell bags and I looked at just about every store in town.
The laptop bag became my UFO.
As so often happens, I found the perfect laptop bag for me and it looked nothing like what I thought it would. It has a tassel (a tassel, me?) and it doesn’t have enough pockets, and it cost more than I wanted to pay. But it looks great and it protects my laptop and I love it.
And they fixed the computer and my presentation went well.
And the moral of the story is: when uncertainty makes me anxious, I displace it onto a quest for unattainable things. More productive than questioning my ability to give the presentation, and great exercise, but still… where was I? Oh yes, self-awareness. Learning to recognize that it is uncertainty is causing the anxiety. Acknowledging it. Then asking, What’s the worst that could go wrong? If they called me right now and said that has happened, what will I do instead? Then letting go.
Let’s see if I remember that the next time I start obsessing over things beyond my control.