April 15th 2011. This was my last day in the United States, my last day at work. I was returning home to India for good, the next day. The software team arranged a farewell lunch for me. At the end of the lunch, I asked Stu, a wonderful man who was not only my boss but also my mentor, for parting words of wisdom. “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” Stu replied instantly.

I was a person who would sweat the small stuff constantly, this advice seemed to be tailor-made for me. “Of course, you know the second part of this phrase,” Stu continued. I confessed that I didn’t. “And it’s all small stuff.” Wow! Now this was truly profound. Little did I know that these words would be the start of a journey of self-transformation.

I had never seen any need for self-transformation. I had very good reason for my flawed behavior. Heck, was it even flawed? Of course not. It was never my fault, it was always the fault of the other person. There was just one problem — there seemed to be too many instances where it was the other person’s fault, which translated to my being unhappy more often than not.

In mid-2012, I stopped at a book store during my evening walk. As I was browsing through their collection, a small, yellow book by an author called Richard Carlson caught my attention. Do Not Sweat the Small Stuff. With a small subtitle: And it’s all small stuff. Stu’s words immediately came to mind and I purchased the book instantly. And started reading it.

The book captivated me at the very outset. The book began with a quote by William James:

The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude

This was a brand new revelation. All I had to do to change my world was to change my attitude. Wow. I was stunned and amazed.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff had 100 bite-sized chapters, each imparting one nugget of wisdom. Here are some of the chapters that made an impression on me:

#1 Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
#4 Be Aware of the Snowball Effect of Your Thinking
#12 Let Others be “Right” Most of the Time
#15 Ask Yourself the Question, “Will This Matter a Year from Now?”
#27 Imagine the People in Your Life as Tiny Infants and as One-Hundred-Year-Old Adults
#30 Choose Your Battles Wisely
#37 Choose Being Kind Over Being Right
#48 Remember that Everything Has God’s Fingerprints on It
#56 Be Grateful when You’re Feeling Good and Graceful when You’re Feeling Bad
#60 Turn Your Melodrama into a Mellow-Drama
#78 Cut Yourself Some Slack
#87 Redefine a “Meaningful Accomplishment”
#89 If Someone Throws You the Ball, You Don’t Have to Catch It
#96 Be Open to “What Is”

I was positively thrilled with the new ideas that this book provided. I kept gushing about it to my Dad and Mom. We started to routinely talk about Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff chapters in our conversations. We even knew some of the chapter numbers by heart.

In Mid-2012, a couple of months after I read this book, my Dad and I played together in the prestigious HCL bridge tournament in New Delhi. On one occasion, my opponent committed an infraction — he claimed the contract by showing his hand only to my partner (my Dad), while the rules stipulate that he needs to show me as well (this infraction is comparable to not stopping at a stop sign — this is wrong, but not serious enough for a fellow driver to take any action).

~As he was getting a good result on this deal, he was gloating and smirking as well. I was already annoyed that I was getting a bad score on this deal. I allowed his gloating to get to me, and I decided put on my pedant hat. I informed him that he needed to show me his hand as well, as required by the laws of contract bridge. He predictably asked me to go to hell. I replied in kind, and soon enough, we got into a yelling contest. My poor Dad, and my opponent’s poor partner, had to silently watch our yelling contest.

Of course, a deeper look into the situation would have revealed the following:

1) This was not the best way to go about the situation.
2) I was pursuing a matter which was supremely irrelevant — why not simply conserve my energy and move on to the next deal
3) My yelling was not respectful to my partner, my other opponent, the other contestants, and well, the game of bridge itself

If my Dad had told me any of the above, in the state of mind that I was in, I would have told him, “But Dad, I am right and he is wrong.” My Dad, however, calmly said: “Prahalad: 12 and 37.” I immediately knew the significance of this numerical allusion. My Dad was referring to the following chapters of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff:

#12: Let Others be “Right” Most of the Time.
#37: Choose Being Kind Over Being Right.

Of course. My decision to be “right” here came at a cost. And several such decisions to be “right” over my lifetime would undoubtedly have compounded to a great negative sum, as well as strengthening the not-so-helpful “being right” muscle. Thanks Dad and Richard, for working in tandem and giving me a lesson to be learnt by heart, a lesson that I aspire to master over a lifetime.

P.S. I learned that Richard Carlson passed away tragically at the age of 45 in 2006. Through his gentle and powerful words, he played a part in touching millions of lives for the better

Photo Credit: Carlson LLC
My thanks to Kristine Carlson for granting permission to use this image, and for making the world a better place. My thanks to Whitney Lee for helping obtain the permission.

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Prahalad Rajkumar

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