A friend of mine — long embroiled in upsets, distractions, problems and tribulations — called one day to announce happily that she was learning to “let things roll right off my back.”
“Really?” I asked. “And how is that?”
She explained that her accountant had called to discuss a tax return, due that day after a couple of extensions, and told her that she owed $15,000.
There was a silent pause; then, she asked, “How can that be? We spent more money than we made last year.” I like that logic. If you spent it and don’t have, how can you pay it?
Her accountant pressed on. “You owe it. Do you want to pay it today with the return?”
Lightly, she replied, “No, I don’t believe so. Just set up payments.”
She was delighted with herself. “See? I didn’t get stressed. I’m learning.”
Yes, she is. That is the gift of enough trials: You either break down or learn to cope. But when you get old enough to be wise enough, you realize that everything works out if you let it. Many of the things that are breaking our backs today won’t be remembered down the road.
If I could go back in time and give the younger me one piece of advice, it would be this: “Minimize the drama. Step over a disappointment and move onward to a new opportunity.”
Heaven knows that during my earlier years, I wore out my poor mama with all my extreme upset over things I can no longer remember. I can promise you this, though: Some of the biggest sob-producing moments were the result of a pimple that arose at the wrong time or a haircut gone wrong.
Oh, if all of my life’s problems could have been of such little consequence.
When I was a sponsor’s publicist on the NASCAR circuit, I had the great pleasure of working with Mark Martin, who became a cherished friend. He was a joy, always willing to do whatever it took for the good of the sponsor or to help others.
Once, when we were doing a Winner’s Circle commitment for NASCAR, I convinced Mark to take a helicopter from San Francisco to Sacramento for an appearance. Mark, his lovely wife, Arlene, and I climbed abroad and flew up for the luncheon. When we got back to the softball field where the helicopter was supposed to be waiting, the pilot had left us high and dry when he got a call from film producer George Lucas to pick him up.
Arlene and I sat in the back of the car, both of us fuming while we waited for another helicopter to arrive from San Francisco. The star? He sat in the front seat, laughing, completely entertained by the situation.
There is a moment in time with Mark that I shall never forget. He had led the championship race for months but lost it in the second race from the end. He entered Atlanta trailing Dale Earnhardt by six points. The pressure was intense. The media crowded ’round. Mark desperately wanted that championship but stayed cool.
In the midst of the race, a caution came out and everyone pitted. In front of our stall was Bill Elliott’s. While Mark was in the pit, a car lost control, came spinning down pit road, slammed against Bill’s car and smashed his rear tire changer, Mike Rich. We watched in horror. Mark saw everything from the driver’s seat. I watched as Mike’s headset soared 20 feet in the air. We knew he could not live.
When the race ended, I was the first to Mark’s car. Earnhardt had won. He climbed out of the car, tears stinging his eyes and whispered quietly, “What’s a championship?” What had mattered most a few hours before no longer matter after what we had witnessed.
Drama is only as big as you make it.
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