How to Stop Worrying, iPod-style


I spent a bit of my first year in business worrying.  There was so much that I had little or no experience with that I was often anxious about things that had happened or could happen.  I tried to do my best and figure things out logically or by asking other people, and I had mellow periods, but it was easy to worry about just about anything, anytime.

That abated a bit as I got more experienced, and as I felt more comfortable with the work, I listened to my iPod more and more.   At first, I just listened to my library of songs that I was familiar with and could tune in and out of, but as I got even more comfortable, I realized that I could easily learn a few new things by listening to audiobooks.  And they would give me a bit of perspective outside of my work.  Again, I started to listen to them during the really repetitive tasks, like packaging individual items and chopping nuts & marshmallows, but now I listen to them while cooking and working with tempered chocolate, too.  The only task that always remains silent is the final packaging of mailing boxes, when I want to be sure that everything that was ordered is included and packed properly.  And the iPod is put away when someone else is working with me.

I tend to go for history, biographies and rarely, fiction — which, btw, makes me feel old because I used to mostly read fiction.  On the job, I’ve listened to subjects, titles, and authors like Theodore Roosevelt, Truman, Julia Child, Jacques Pepin, Einstein, Magellan (who was killed before he made it around the world!), the Mayflower, Steve Martin, Sandra Day O’Connor, Captain Kidd, Andrew Jackson, Shackleton, the Mondavi’s, P.G. Woodhouse, Churchill, Wicked, The Country of the Pointed Firs, the CA Gold Rush, Sherlock Holmes, Sarah Vowell, Neil Gaiman, Billy Collins, Paris 1919, Balzac, Susan Orlean, Hannibal (the Carthaginian), David Sedaris, Ruth Reichl, John McPhee, the Darien expedition, Nick Hornby, Abraham Lincoln, TEDTalks, Dickens…

I admit, listening to Dickens’ Hard Times has been just that — the sentences seem to make sense, but I can never make sense of them altogether and I doubt I’ll ever finish that one.  I often think about Dickens, however, when I select my audiobooks.   I believe he was often paid by the word, and when I look for books, I often look for length.  Two volumes totaling 80 hrs about Churchill’s life, and not even getting to WWII?  Fantastic!!!  I consented to Steve Martin’s 4hr memoir about his standup career because I was interested in it — and ended up listened to it a few times because, well, why not?  I’ll usually listen to a book for awhile at a time, and then go into the music library part of the iPod to listen to music on shuffle for a little while like intermission.  Or sometimes, it’s all one or none…  Silence can also be wonderful to work to.

When someone else started listening to an epically long audiobook about Warren Buffett earlier this year, my interest was piqued.  It turned out that he also had Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point and Dale Carnegie’s How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, so I got those, too.  When I got them onto my computer, I realized that they weren’t in typical audiobook format, which is continuous and allows you to stop at any point, switch to listen to music files, and then go back to the same point in the book.  Instead, the books were broken up into files equivalent to song files, and they stored along with the songs.

I listened to the beginning files of How to Stop Worrying… but when I stopped to listen to music instead, I lost my place.   I’d have to write down the file# and time somewhere to keep my place or waste time/memory looking for my place.  But then the best thing happened.  As I was listening to music on shuffle mode, a chapter from How to Stop Worrying… came on with a bit of succinct wisdom, and then a song file played after that.  In the weirdest of ways, I think that this method of listening to it has made it the most effective it can be.  Instead of earnestly listening to the audiobook in long blocks when I feel the need to listen to it and then finishing it and vaguely remembering key points that will fade away, the advice not to worry is randomly whispered into my ears whenever the shuffle strikes.  I hear some things more than once, or sometimes for the first time — sometimes when I need soothing and sometimes when I don’t.  It’s almost subliminal (and the college-days film theorist in me gets a kick out of the semiotics of this).  Since it’s been woven into my work and thoughts, it sinks in well and is a welcome commercial btw songs, rather than a task in itself.

And of course, credit should be given to the book itself.  As he notes in the intro (which really should be read/listened to continuously to get a foundation for what the book is going for), you’ve probably already heard much of the advice in it, but it’s good to hear about it out loud once in a while and about how people have specifically gotten over their worries.  In fact, my favorite parts to listen to are those narratives “by so-and-so” about their own experiences overcoming worry — in many ways, they are song-like, but they’re just not set to music.  And to think that they took place early last century is somehow charming, though it’s easy to mistake them as contemporary. The advice in the book usually comes down to living life in the present (or “day-tight compartments”) and to take responsibility for your life without dwelling on what can’t be changed, and to change what you can.  The narration is also pitch-perfect — down to earth, but authoritative.

The book really has changed me.  There are still so many imperfect things about my company, but my perspective on how to think about them has changed.  Perhaps a concern now is to not try to take on more than I can really handle because I’m not worried that I won’t be able to do it.

Anyway, back to a more practical matter — listening to an iPod during work isn’t such a bad thing after all, though, of course, it wouldn’t work on a larger scale. Though part of me thinks that instead of playing background music or talk radio on speakers in kitchens, maybe audiobooks would work, too.

2 Responses to “How to Stop Worrying, iPod-style”

  1. jennywenny Says:

    Good to know! I need to stop worrying!

    I like to listen to BBC radio and NPR on the internet while I’m working. When things get really stressful I change back to itunes.

  2. p.r. Says:

    wow. I think maybe I’ll get the Dale Carnegie audiobook now. Thank you.

    I like the idea of “day-tight compartments.”

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