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I’m stressed that I didn’t complete everything on my to-do list at work yesterday, and I didn’t have time to pick up my dry cleaning, so I have to fit that in today. I also have a date tonight—what am I going to wear? …

These sorts of thoughts occupy our minds daily, the minutia of day-to-day life. It all seems so important in the moment, like life would end without completing that to-do list. Even though really, life as we know it will likely continue, regardless of what gets crossed off. But, what if it didn’t?

In my prior job, I worked with a sweet, generous and hard-working woman who managed our office. One day, as we were about to leave the office, she got a phone call, on her cell, from her doctor. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Her life changed in a matter of seconds and her previous stresses, like her to-do list and errands, became abstract and lost the type of significance they held in her life just moments before. She focused more on family, her treatment, and getting enough rest. The to-do list and errands later took on meaning, not because they seemed important the way they did before, but because they sometimes helped her feel healthy and fulfilled, distracting her from fear and pain. Her view on life and priorities shifted, and at that time I truly learned about our mortality, and my view on life started to shift, too.

A couple weeks ago I went shoe shopping at Nordstrom. Although I went for brown leather riding boots, I got side-tracked by a pair of plush moccasin boots. I didn’t purchase the boots because they didn’t seem too practical for trudging through the Chicago snow. This was kind of a dilemma, because they were so cute, but I couldn’t justify the expense if I couldn’t get through the snow in them. The other day, while driving back into the city from the burbs, my mind somehow fell on these boots again and eventually my mind wandered to, “But what if I couldn’t trudge through the snow? What if, physically, I couldn’t navigate the snow?” Now this would be a legitimate dilemma. I brought myself back to earth, criticizing myself for fixating on such a silly material possession …

About four years ago, a dear friend of mine stumbled upon an ill-marked construction site and fell several feet. Due to serious spinal cord injuries, he now will rely on a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Recently, I had a conversation with him and he told me that now, his life is all about “perspective.” He no longer stresses over the little things and allows himself to appreciate what brings him happiness, even if it’s just short-term gratification. Life’s too short to worry about every little thing and it’s also too short to disregard what’s going to bring us pleasure. I think we forget that, and I think those of us who are lucky, and I mean really lucky enough to have our health and physical capabilities, too easily forget that in our daily lives.

This Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for my health and loved ones, but I’d also like to thank those who have touched me and taught me strength by example. I’m thankful for the perspective they have given me and how they have reminded me to enjoy the pleasures in life that often go un-noticed due to the minor stresses and concerns running through our brains like a ticker tape. This holiday season, as we’re reminded about all we should be thankful for, let’s also try to remember not to sweat the small stuff.

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