Confessions of a worrywort

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I worry. That’s what I do. I’m a seasoned professional with 55 years of experience. Toss in a mild case of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and you have a perfect cocktail for what I like to call Furrowed Brow Syndrome. I’d put it on my resume, but I worry someone would think I’m being flip.

“What are you worried about?” the late, great editor of the Post-Gazette once asked a room full of arts leaders. He thought it was rhetorical. What aren’t we worried about?

Many nonprofits, and not just in the arts, are three months away from catastrophe. We budget, we worry, we project, we worry, we program, we worry, we meet funders, we worry, we get complaints, we worry. We worry when we aren’t worrying enough. We worry when we worry too much.

Really, you ask? Three months from catastrophe? (I fear I might exaggerate a bit.)

Many of us cannot carry much more than three months worth of cash flow, meaning that if income stopped today, the organization would be out of money in three months. If that doesn’t worry an administrator, nothing will. There are, of course, organizations with more money in the bank and access to a line of credit. But those people worry, too.

Often, worry is not reasonable. Worry is what we do when we are unsure what to do. Worry is a place-keeping device installed until we can substitute a solution, or resolution. But like its first cousin, Busy, it has taken on a kind of worthless currency. Busy is a stupid badge of honor many people wear to demonstrate how important they are.

“How are you?”

“Man, I’m so busy.”

Busy how? Like, brushing your teeth busy? Eating busy? Getting your haircut busy? Wait. Forget the eating part. Busy people don’t have time to eat. No, of course not. It is working busy. Busy is “boy, does my life have a lot of moving parts.” Busy is tied to self worth. But really, busy is balsawood. No one is as busy as they claim, except maybe Bill Peduto. That guy is everywhere.

Back to worry. Worry doesn’t have much practical value. When someone says they are worried about me, I, to paraphrase Alan Watts, bolt the door and get the gun. Not everyone worries. I have a friend who never seems to worry. He tore his Achilles tendon and had his gallbladder removed within weeks of each other. I’d visit him at home and he would be as cheery as can be.

“This?” he would say, pointing to the cast on his leg. “This is nothing.”

On the other hand, I have another friend who is like me. He worries, a lot. He tore a meniscus tendon in his leg and had his appendix removed within weeks of each other.

The point is, it doesn’t matter. Two guys wait for the same bus. One is fretting, the other one knows the bus will come when the bus comes.

I’d like to have my capacity for worry surgically removed, but it’s not going to happen, and that worries me.


Charlie Humphrey is executive director of Pittsburgh Filmmakers (charlie@pghfilmmakers.org).

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