Three Circles of Worry

Three Circles of Worry

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October ’62. Cuba. Missiles. Blockade. Nuclear War?…

I’m 14… old enough to know the mess we’re in. 

An American U-2 spy plane just photographed “hidden” Soviet SS-5 land-based nuclear missiles 99 miles off the Florida coast. Staged in Cuba, those flying atomic bombs were ominously pointed in our direction.

President Kennedy sternly warns the Soviet Union to pull them out.  Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko firmly says no, sternly warning the U.S., “Don’t you dare attack Cuba.” 

To liven things up, Soviet warships begin heading our way. Our military is at DEFCON 2, the highest ever. Newspapers, television, radio; and virtually every conversation at work and school focuses on the repercussions of nuclear war.

In my 9th grade class our teacher vividly describes the effects of nuclear fallout. He shows us graphic slides of the victims at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Why? We were already scared enough. 

Day after day, we practice nuclear attack drills (essentially, we hide under our desks). It was surreal. 

Remember the soap opera, “As the World Turns”?

For thirteen days in ’62, the world stands still. 

Everyone was worried about war… except Dad. 

It was bizarre, like he doesn’t care. My dad, Chubby, never mentions the subject. When I bring it up, he listens politely but doesn’t seem interested. Maybe he doesn’t want our family upset. That must be it, I think to myself.

Saturday, October 27th. The world comes unglued. A U.S. U-2 spy plane is shot down over Cuba. Everyone is consumed with the news. Everyone knows we are on the brink of war.

I walk into Chubby’s office at our home.

He’s writing ads to sell houses! Are you kidding?

I ask, “Dad, aren’t you worried about war?” “Why?” he replies. 

“Why? Because we all might soon be dead!” I reply.

Chubby calmly looks up, “Greg, it’s in the third circle. There’s no reason to worry.”

“The third circle,” I shoot back. “What’s the third circle?” 

(It’s been almost 60 years since that day, and what I learned has helped me sleep soundly most every night.)

Chubby continues,

“Greg, everything you will ever worry about falls into one of three circles. 

CIRCLE 1: The first circle is everything you control. 

For example, how often you brush your teeth, or how much you study for an exam.

There is no reason to worry about the first circle, because it’s 100% in your control. 

CIRCLE 2: The second circle is what happens as a result of  the first circle. 

For example, you can brush your teeth after every meal, but you still might get a cavity. There is no reason to worry about the second circle as long as you’re happy with what you did in the first circle.  

CIRCLE 3: The third circle is what you can’t control; which is most everything.

For example, whether the sun comes up tomorrow; or whether it snows so much they call off school. It’s silly to waste time worrying about what you can’t control. Cuba, nuclear missiles, that idiot Khrushchev; they are 100% beyond my control, all in the third circle.”

Chubby finishes up with a tip I’ve never forgotten. 

“Greg, while everyone is wasting time worrying, I’m getting ahead working.”  

Chubby’s Three Circles of Worry have a lot of relevance today. So many are worried about politics, business, money, family, safety, and health.   

What would be Chubby’s advice? Likely very much like Erma Bombeck’s;

“Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.”

Or perhaps this anonymous quote; 

“Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles, it takes away today’s peace.” 

– Greg Hague

–Greg Hague,
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