I was driving to a cross-country meet with Claire a few weeks ago, and she was really nervous. “I have butterflies!” she said from the backseat.
I tried to calm her down. She’s still in elementary school and she was only going to be running a couple of miles. “It’s for fun, anyway,” I said.
“But what if it’s terrible?” she said. I could hear the worry in her voice.
“Okay,” I said, “what’s the worst thing that can happen today?”
“I could die!” Claire said.
“You’re not going to die,” I said. “You know that. So let’s think about what actually might happen.”
“I could have to walk,” she said. “Or I could be the last person to finish!”
“So, let’s imagine that worst-case scenario,” I said. “If you’re the last one to finish, then what happens?”
“I’d feel sad,” she said.
“That’s real,” I said. “But that’s the worst thing that can happen. That doesn’t seem so bad!”
She smiled at me and admitted that I was right. She was still nervous, but really, she knew it would be okay.
Later, I thought about how I could apply this question to a lot of areas of my life. Of course, I know the worst thing that can randomly happen at any point: someone I love might die. But there’s not a lot I can do about something like that.
In the rest of my life, this question is a useful one, especially right now. I’m still scared to do a lot of things that I once did with ease. I do not want to eat out alone. I do not want to head to a party, dressed to the nines, without someone at my side. I do not want to drive my kids by myself to another sporting event where I’ll encounter dozens of intact families. I do not want to strike up a conversation with a handsome stranger at the coffee shop.
I do not want to do a lot of things, actually.
But why? Maybe I should apply this same question to myself: what’s the worst thing that can happen?
I might feel lonely eating out alone. I might cry. Someone else might feel sorry for me.
I might really miss Shawn at a party. I might see other couples and feel jealous. I might walk home in thigh-high pleather boots and cry the entire way.
I might feel overwhelmed at a sporting event without Shawn. I might see the other fathers and worry obsessively about my children’s futures without their dad.
And I might get rejected if I try and talk to someone new. Maybe immediately, or maybe after some time has gone by. I might get my heart broken.
But you know what won’t happen? Just like Claire at the cross-country meet, I know one thing for sure: I’m not going to die if I do these things.
I’m not saying I can – or should – do everything. There’s a limit to this question, of course. But when I start to retreat into myself, I’ve found it helpful to remember what I asked Claire that day:
“What’s the worst thing that can happen?”
Really, the answer is sometimes not quite as bad as I imagine.
Image Credit: María Luz Bravo Photography.