I was talking to my neighbor Linda this afternoon. She is 93 years old. She probably calls me once every few weeks and her main topic of conversation is always the same. Our lawn service. Her husband cared for the lawn up until he passed away a few years ago, at the age of 92. After he passed away, she called me one day and asked who I used for my lawn service.
Not thinking too much of it, I gave her the name and number of my lawn guy. Lawn services have been historically unreliable for me. I am on my third lawn service in the last 10 years and I have come to the conclusion that they are pretty much the same. They zip in and out on a riding mower, even though my lawn is about the size of a postage stamp. And they do the minimum amount of work necessary to get onto the next house.
I have gotten used to less than stellar service, but for my neighbor, this came as a great shock. Her husband had a green thumb and maintained one of the most beautiful lawns on the block. So ever since she switched over to my lawn service, the phone calls and the questions have kept on coming.
"Do you think they'll be out to cut today?"
"Did you get your bill yet? I have been tracking it on my calendar every time they come and I have not gotten one yet. Did he forget about us?"
"I don't like how they just come in and zip, zip, zip! And then they're done."
"I want them to pull the weeds out of my garden beds. I left a message, but he never calls me back. Can you text him for me?"
"I'm not happy with this service. I think they should do a better job."
"Last week, they rode right over my drain pipe with that huge machine!"
I could go on. After all, I have three years worth of material, but I think you probably get the idea. Today, it snowed and now the snow is turning to rain. Our neighbors were wisely out shovelling and salting this afternoon so that when it re-freezes tomorrow they will not have a block of ice on their driveway. But of course, Linda and I are waiting for the lawn service to come and remove the snow.
When my phone rang this afternoon, I had a pretty good idea of who was calling. Linda was wanting to know why they hadn't come out to do the snow yet. And then she launched into the usual series of complaints about the lawn service. To be honest, I am equally frustrated with the lawn service, but I am not convinced that anyone else would do better.
They never came out and cleared the rest of the leaves before the first snowfall, so both of us have huge piles of leaves sitting in our backyards. Linda said that if she was a few years younger, she would just go out there and clean them up herself, but she is afraid she would hurt herself.
"You know, I have that huge pile of leaves under my porch swing and I can't do anything about it," she said. "What will people think? Won't they wonder why I am not doing anything about it?"
Her words hung in the air for a moment. And then I replied. "Well Linda, you are 93 years old. I am pretty sure no one expects you to go out and clean up those leaves yourself," I said. "Besides, I really don't think anyone is paying attention."
She seemed relieved at my response. We chatted for a few more minutes and she decided to give the lawn service one more chance before she switches to another one.
After we hung up, I couldn't stop thinking about what she said. Not just the comment about the leaves, but really the entire conversation. Linda doesn't even own a car. She never leaves her house unless someone picks her up, so it really doesn't matter if her driveway is covered in snow all winter. Yet, she obsesses about getting everything done.
It occurred to me that the reason she is so worried about when the lawn service is going to come and clean up the snow is that she is watching all of the neighbors clean up their property and wondering if they are judging her for not doing the same. She is worried about what everyone will think.
I hope that if I am still alive at 93 years old, I won't give a flying fig about what other people think. But that doesn't seem to be the case for Linda. She seems to worry about everything.
Worrying is a habit. And if you can't find a way to break that habit when you are 21, or 33, or 45, or 58, then when will you ever be free? I spent most of my life worrying about what other people would think. It has only been recently that I have started to let go of that worry and start living my life on my own terms.
If I had worried about what other people thought when I left my corporate job, I would probably still be there. And if I had worried about what other people thought when I started dating a guy who is two inches shorter than me, then I might not have found true love with Mark Johnson. And if I had asked for an opinion survey about what to purge from my house, I would probably still be sitting on a mound of stuff that means something to someone else, but not to me.
So the next time you want to do something and you hear that little voice in your head start to hesitate and wonder what other people will think, just remember my neighbor Linda. They always say that life is too short, but I say that life is long. It could be 93 years long, if you're lucky.
And that is way too long to spend your time not doing what you really want to do because you are worried about what other people might think.