What If You Really Do Care Too Much?
It’s almost a knee jerk reaction to that job interview question about your greatest weakness, to say you care too much, but for managing the load of life or even a job, it’s probably not the best answer. When things begin to get crazy, you have to ask yourself how many cares you’re carrying around. Could it be you’re trying to care too much?
I was surprised to learn that my grown children — all of them — are Bob Ross fans. I just know him as the guy on PBS with the smooth blues radio voice that paints beautiful stuff and narrates his smooth strokes of color as he goes. My kids say it’s comforting to listen and watch as he calmly goes through the paces, a dab here, a dab there and gradually this beautiful scene takes shape on the canvas.
Recently, as they watched, I overheard him say,
“…I think if there’s a secret to human nature it’s the fact that we aren’t satisfied, we’re never satisfied. I hope you’re absolutely plagued with dissatisfaction your whole life. Because if you are, you’ll always strive to do better.”
How often do we see our dissatisfaction with life as a positive indicator, a reminder, that we want better? Maybe a reassurance that we still care enough to want a change for the better?
With that in mind, is it possible that you may need to care a little less about some things?
I’m thinking of two forms of care. One I consider to be the idle care or concern, where we attach importance to something, but not necessarily action. The other is the active kind of care that David Carradine refers to in the movie, The Weatherman, where he says repeatedly, “There’s always lookin’ after!”
Over the years in corporate life I was sometimes asked about my secret for managing stress. Often, after checking to see who was within earshot, I’d say, half-jokingly, “I don’t care.” It was good for a laugh, but it was half-joking and half-true. I cared a great deal about some things, but perhaps not about everything that my stressed out peers seemed to be.
The truth of the matter is that we humans simply don’t have the emotional bandwidth to care deeply about everything. Of course, this doesn’t mean we don’t ever make the mistake of attempting to, but we can’t afford to be careless about our cares, and we have to make a distinction between cares and concerns.
It’s not that you don’t care about the boss or wife or friend or cause. You may be very concerned, but you can only take on so many active cares. A sink full of dishes is a concern, but it may not be something you can afford to care for, or take care of, now.
The fact is such idle concerns can create a residue that impedes our ability to attend to the active cares. It’s similar to the effect of idling a car engine excessively. The engine doesn’t reach a high enough temperature to allow complete combustion of fuel, which creates fuel residue in the system and impedes the engine’s ability to perform. Water condenses in the exhaust system and causes corrosion.
Sound familiar? When we overload our cognitive system with idle concerns, we impede our performance and capacity to address the active cares. The residue of worry, the corrosion of stress, and sense of not firing on all cylinders, are all symptomatic of having too many idle concerns.
Is it enough for now just to know that you care enough to do better, and that means some of these concerns will have to wait? Do you harbor, accept from others, an unrealistic expectation that you have to be 100% on all the time about everything that concerns you? Can you afford to think that way?
Say I have a friend who wants too much. Wants me to care more than I want to or can right now. Isn’t it ok for me to say, politely, some version of “I’m sorry, I have a limited capacity for caring and it’s all being used up right now getting through this day. I don’t have enough left for you. I’m concerned about you, but I can’t afford to care for you right now”?
I once went to see a therapist who was highly recommended, and as I began to unzip and roll out my emotional baggage, he seemed to marvel at it. He used good therapist nonverbal skills and language, but the essence I got out of his reaction was, “Wow! That’s a lot of stuff you’ve got there. It must be difficult, even overwhelming!”
Part of me was exasperated. I remember thinking “really? That’s your clinical expertise and insight? That I’ve got a lot of stuff going on?”
I left and it was a while before it dawned on me. He’d forced me to ask myself how much I could afford to care about. I never went back. I was done with him, but I wasn’t done caring or being concerned. I’m still not.
I think of Bob Ross calmly selecting from a palette of a mere handful of colors. Sure, he mixes some here and there to create new colors. Similarly, I have a few active cares to focus on. I may mix in a few concerns here and there, but I must be careful. I’ve got to keep my focus on how this painting called “life” is coming along.
A dab of care here a dab of concern there… There’s always lookin’ after!