October ’62. Cuba. Missiles. Blockade. Nuclear fallout drills at school…
I’m only 14… but old enough to know things aren’t right.
An American U-2 spy plane had photographed “hidden” Soviet SS-5 land-based nuclear missiles sitting in Cuba, just 99 miles off the Florida coast. Those flying atomic bombs are pointed our way.
President Kennedy sternly warns the Soviet Union to pull them out. Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko says no, firmly warning Kennedy that attacking Cuba would be like attacking us, and lead to WW III.
To liven things up Soviet warships depart, crossing the Atlantic heading our way. Our military alert status elevates to DEFCON 2, the highest ever since the threat rating system began. Newspapers, television, radio; and virtually every discussion at work, social events, and school focuses on the repercussions of nuclear war.
My 9th grade teacher vividly describes the effects of nuclear fallout. He shows us graphic slides of the victims at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In retrospect, that was not smart. We were already scared enough. What did it accomplish for us to graphically visualize the unimaginable?
Day after day we practice nuclear attack drills (essentially, we hide under our desks). It was surreal. In retrospect, it was also ridiculous. Who thought tiny school desks would protect us from nuclear fallout?
Remember the soap opera, “As the World Turns”?
For thirteen days in ’62, the world stood still.
Everyone was worried about war… except Chubby, my dad.
It was bizarre, like he didn’t care. Chubby never mentions the subject of Cuba, missiles, or war.. When I bring it up he listens politely but doesn’t comment or even seem interested. Is it that he doesn’t want to exacerbate the fear we are all feeling?
Saturday, October 27th. The world comes unglued. One of our U-2 spy planes is shot down over Cuba. Americans are consumed with the news. We are clearly on the brink of war.
That morning I walk into Chubby’s home office. He’s writing ads to sell homes! Are you kidding?
I ask, “Dad, aren’t you worried about war?” “Why?” he replies.
“Why? Because we all might be dead!” I reply.
Chubby calmly looks up and says, “Greg, it’s third circle. There’s no point in worrying.”
“Third circle?” I ask. “What does that mean?”
(It’s been almost 60 years since that day, and what I learned has saved me massive amounts of worry, and helped me sleep soundly most every night.)
“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 else is wasting time worrying about what they can do nothing about, I’m sleeping soundly and getting ahead of my competitors at work.”
Chubby’s Three Circles of Worry have particular relevance these days. The war in Ukraine. Mass public shootings. High inflation. Rising interest rates. A jittery stock market. Politicians slamming each other on TV. And we all occasionally have personal and/or business stuff we worry about.
What would Chubby’s advice be today? I have no doubt it would be the same as back in October ’62. Erma Bombeck expressed it her own way:
“Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.”
Zig Zigler expressed it well too:
“Worrying does not take away tomorrow’s troubles, it takes away today’s peace.”
We all worry at times. But, remembering Chubby’s three circles and those sage words by Erma and Zig is why I don’t worry as much.