Don’t sweat the small stuff

We fret our daily pains without remembering how trivial much of it is

IT’S been a hell of a week for me. Many things have gone wrong, with one drama snowballing into another. The only thing that’s kept me above water was hanging out for an amazing trip we had planned for Christmas. Even though I’m a travelling gal, it was to be the trip of a lifetime, trekking across the Sahara to a festival called Festival in the Desert, in Timbuktu, Mali.

Being a great lover of African music, in particular music from Senegal and Mali, it was powerfully exciting to imagine being amid the indigenous peoples of the region who come each year for the festival — from north and south on camels and by foot in their traditional costumes, carrying instruments. And then to sleep under the stars surrounded by crackling fires and song.

Warnings on government websites of al-Qa’ida activity in the region did not deter us, so strong was our passion for the music, the dance. Then at the end of my nasty week, the news. Six foreigners were kidnapped from or near Timbuktu — one executed.

Money lost; and a lifetime opportunity lost. We lay in bed feeling dreadful, particularly after the week of all those other problems: money, family, work issues. “Give me a break,” I railed at the uncaring universe.

The next morning I read the paper for more news of the attacks. Instead I found Mrs Flannery. Her son, Jake, had just been electrocuted in Bali. She said she had been anxious about his first overseas trip but he was very excited about the holiday to celebrate his graduation from high school.

“I’ve been so stressed out about him going out there,” she said. “He’s just such a good kid. He’s a lovely kid with everyone. He was very close with his sisters.”

Reading her tragic interview was heartbreaking for me and, I suspect, every parent.

The story underneath it was of a three-year-old child who had been washed down a drain and killed in NSW floods. I thought of the parents who had lost these children; and the families of the people kidnapped in Timbuktu; and those poor kidnapped souls now living in torture, in some hideaway.

There aren’t words to describe it: the urgent need we all have to put life in perspective. Our daily losses and griefs are normal. Living is a process of pain and loss as we naturally lose battles, friends, our power, our youth. But some losses are just too hard to bear; and just remembering they exist has to make us wake up to the silliness of fretting over trivial things.

More eloquently put: “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

Please share your views    Press “comment” above.

Full story The Australian


25 Responses to Don’t sweat the small stuff

  1. David Dickinson 14 March 2012 at 3:15 pm #

    Sorry I meant Senegal. Look up American singer Ashley Maher and get her singing and rhythm of that Country. Regards David.

  2. Conrad Blakeman 11 March 2012 at 7:29 pm #

    Keep up your simplistic but pithy observations of life and all its shades and shadows

  3. Conrad Blakeman 11 March 2012 at 7:29 pm #

    Does your correspondent mean Mali and confused with Somalia in East Africa

  4. David Dickinson 11 March 2012 at 4:01 pm #

    Thanks Ruth for your reply. I was particularly interested re your liking for Somali music. I cant remember if I suggested you look up the web site of Ashley Maher, a brilliant singer of Somali Music. She lives in Los Angeles and from her web site you can listen to her sing etc. She is the daughter of some very old firends of mine. I would be interested in you comments. Hope you enjoyed your holiday. Kind regards David.

  5. Ruth Ostrow 10 March 2012 at 8:46 pm #

    Sorry David, I’ve been on holidays read and love every comment even the critical ones, cheers

  6. David Dickinson 6 March 2012 at 3:25 pm #

    Do comments from articles via the Blog get seen by Ruth or do they just disappear into the wilderness? Regards David.

  7. greg 6 February 2012 at 9:52 am #

    Just got back from the Festival in the desert outside Timbuktu. I read and understood your misgivings prior to going, however we also realised the problems were internal and sporadic and that the festival is vitally important to the Government and people of Mali – both culturally and economically. The lack of western travellers provided intimacy at the festival but was also very disappointing for the locals as they rely on our money to provide food for their families. Met a couple of Touregs who had travelled for 32 days by camel to the festival to sell their wares to by rice, millet etc for their families and then travel 32 days back. We were thanked each day by people for just being there. Supporting their culture and economy. It was an experience we will never forget – beautiful people both warm of heart and generous of spirit, under the stars in the desert for 3 days of amazi9ng music. I hope the festival remains, as I will return one day.

  8. Ruth Ostrow 15 December 2011 at 8:42 pm #

    Thanks Harry – and the word tragedy is so overused to describe our small losses, when it should be kept for a 7

  9. Ruth Ostrow 15 December 2011 at 8:34 pm #

    Thank you and it is brave to carry on, just getting out of bed some days is brave.

  10. Ruth Ostrow 15 December 2011 at 8:33 pm #

    Thanks and yes it is a cliche, although for me remains a constant remind of how I catastrophise nothing much at all

  11. Ruth Ostrow 15 December 2011 at 8:31 pm #

    Yes Lucy, i have seen the same courage and often wonder how I would cope – I fear not well.

  12. Ruth Ostrow 15 December 2011 at 8:31 pm #

    A beautiful story. Reminds me of going to India and the joy of people who are suffering so profoundly. They live in such adveristy and poverty and yet laugh and sing and look so content. Unbelievable to a western mind

  13. Conrad Blakeman 15 December 2011 at 1:18 pm #

    Hello Ruth I enjoy reading your columns of common sense and reflection..One I enjoyed most was in 1999 “A Deep Sense of Belonging” which I still have a photocopy.As I journey through life I like aphilosphy of Anne Deveson.also a radio and print journalist.after catharsis and turmoil she went through that.”to put one foot in front of the other and keep going forward””…we may go sideways on the travel Ruth as long as we dont step backwards.
    My own philosphy is that “the only security I need is to wake up every day”: Best wishes Conrad Blakeman

  14. KathyT 12 December 2011 at 1:25 pm #

    About five years ago I met some people whose life and attitudes put any complaints I have about the “small stuff” in my life into perspective. These people are Karen refugees from Burma. A small group of them joined our church community and today that group has grown to about 400.

    Each one of my Karen friends have had to flee their homes, have had friends or loved ones killed, tortured or raped and have lived for up to 20 years in refugee camps in Thailand.

    Two years ago a group of us went with a Karen friend to the Thai/Burma border to see for ourselves what they have been through. What we saw moved us greatly. We returned again this year and have formed The Hope Project to provide support, advocacy and encouragement for Karen people on the Thai/burma border.

    What strikes me the most about my Karen friends is their ability to smile and laugh in the face of extreme adversity. Despite all they’ve been through they’ve got on with their lives, helped each other as a community and are looking to the future with hope and optimism.

  15. Lucy 12 December 2011 at 4:00 am #

    A final thought: somebody’s “small” stuff might be somebody else’s “great” stuff – and vice versa!!

    I have a friend 15 years younger than myself who has had radical treatment for breast cancer. She was a total trouper throughout, brave and strong and never expecting the slightest sympathy. She carried on with her life as if this was just one more issue to deal with. I felt humbled by her attitude, and also ashamed of myself for the “small stuff”!!

  16. Sandra Pike 11 December 2011 at 6:00 pm #

    Very wise words Lucy, my fight with the bank, the accountant and the electrician, may seem to others very small stuff, but as you get older I feel forgotten, devalued, and mostly dismissed. So we do stand up and say I’m angry, listen to what i have to say, I deserve to have a point of view. There is so much sadness, and heartache in the world today, I feel very overwhelmed, and sometimes the only way to be heard is to speak loudly and clearly, you at least feel a certainly amount of strength.

  17. Cherrie Zell 11 December 2011 at 10:56 am #

    Thank you. I agree with 99.9% of your column. It is true that balance and perspective are critical to our well-being.

    However, the cliche “don’t sweat the small stuff” is so often mis-used and mis-understood. I’ve seen it become an excuse for a slack and lazy attitude and to self-pardon mis-deeds. I’ve heard it accompany the phrase “no-one died” as if the only action worth taking is one that saves a life.

    We are not supposed to sweat the small stuff when the small stuff is distracting us from a larger goal.

    If the goal is balance and perspective, which I believe is the subject of your column, then there will be times in our lives when the small stuff becomes very important as a means of restoration and reprioritisation. “Stopping and smelling the roses” is one example I can think of quickly.

  18. lilliana 11 December 2011 at 10:48 am #

    Just want to say how I appreciated your column,Yes we a ll “sweat the small stuff” and do not enjoy our lucky lives and our great country. I am glad you have learned this valuable lesson and passed it on to us. So many people are sick and have bad and sad lives, we should enbjoy what we have, Thanks Ruth xx

  19. lilliana 11 December 2011 at 10:43 am #

    How smart you are to have realised that its the things we need to be greatful for are right under our noses. Its human to worry about the “small stuff” but if you look around and see the huge problems and health issues some people have you realise that our problems are NOT so great. Lucky you have learned tahis valuable lesson! Thanks. xx

  20. Louise C 10 December 2011 at 11:03 pm #

    Four years of major problems, terrible things happening has taught me so much. The importance of forgiveness, calmness, gratitude…. But what I really notice now is how people get so upset, so stressed and dramatic about the smallest things. Maybe they’ve been fortunate and have never been thru major tribulations. Or maybe they are pessimistic. But 99% of the problems we incur are minor. We need to learn to laugh at these problems. To stay calm even when major problems occur.

    The other lesson I think is really important is to not judge. Society is incredibly judgmental yet we truly have no right to judge people when we have not experienced exactly what they have been through. And instead of complaining and dramatising work problems, relationship issues etc be grateful for everything that we have.

    Louise Hay says that the more we focus on a problem or issue the more of that we get because it’s what we are focusing on. We create in our life what our mind thinks about.

    In his book The Success Principles Jack Canfield writes about the importance of how we react to situations.

    One person stuck in traffic will be complaining, stressing out… yet another will utilise the time to make calls, read etc knowing that there’s nothing they can do about the problem. It’s how we react to problems that makes the huge difference.

  21. Jeanne Scarman 10 December 2011 at 10:19 pm #

    Having read a lot of your articles over the year, I remember you saying about something similar. In that article you said something like maybe it wasn’t your time to go. I know we shouldn’t put ourselves in harms way, but if we wrap ourselves in cotton wool and say “what if” we’d never do anything. Life is short. I lost my husband 7 years ago, and have been doing my level best to live every moment of the day. People think I am brave, no I’m not, I’m just not thinking of the what ifs. Sure lots can go wrong, but for me I have many many good memories. Hope you do go on that trip, it sounds fantastic. More than likely you’ll have the trip of a lifetime with many fantastic memories.

  22. Braceyourself 10 December 2011 at 7:46 pm #

    The only thing in life we can be sure of is death and change ,it’s how we embrace it that makes the difference .

  23. Julie Imber 10 December 2011 at 7:34 pm #

    Dear Ruth, just finished reading your column. Very appropriate. Two weeks ago, car got smashed into, the air conditioning broke down and the new Plasma TV went on the blink. Raved and ranted on Facebook to all. Then my sister called. her husband was leaving her after 20 years of marriage and she was devastated. This was followed by a call from a close friend. His father had had a massive heartattack overseas and died, two years to the day that his mother had a stroke and died. He was flying overseas to sort it all out. They were 61 and 59 respectively. Suddenly everything I was whinging about meant nothing in the scheme of things. Your column has just reinforced that!

  24. Lucy 10 December 2011 at 6:34 pm #

    It does seem self-centered to be worried about the small things when so many people suffer. I think it’s possible, however, to experience both: to feel sorry for yourself and those losses and disappointments and also to feel pain for others is something we can all do. One doesn’t necessarily cancel out the other. But the sense of perspective is the discriminator. No use trying to tell a chronic depressive to “be happy” – it doesn’t work like that. I remember a quote from Omar Kyam, which started a famous film, “The Portrait of Dorian Gray”: it went like this, “I myself am heaven and hell”. Yes. Life can be like this – we can be our own worst enemies – but we can still be capable of compassion and empathy for those who suffer so much more significantly, surely knowing that it can come our way any day. So, not sweating the small stuff can largely depend on our mental and emotional resources anyway. Some are better equipped than others.

  25. harry martin 10 December 2011 at 2:22 pm #

    About 9 years ago I was on my way to a gem show at Anakie. I changed a tyre on my old Landcruiser and what with loading gear in and out of the truck intended for the gem show I let down the jack before a preliminary tightening of the wheel nuts. Remembered as I started driving off, stopped and tightened the nuts. About 2o ks from the end of the journey there was a jolt as the rear tray of the truck went down onto the ashphalt and the wheel went running off down the road ahead of me but fortunately without hitting another vehicle. Had to get a tow, spend an overnight stop to get repairs, new wheel nuts and cover for a damaged rear light assembly. All up cost about $300 and loss of a day’s trading.
    I was lamenting the loss and inconvenience when that night on ABC regional news came the story of a young farming lady who had reached down to a post hole digger. The machine caught her arm and literally ripped it from the socket.
    My problems revealed themselves for what they were… miniscule.
    If 10 is a major disaster, in the absence of serious problems we often elevate a 2 to about a 6 or a 7.

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