David Jefferies, MS ’68, PhD ’79, is a physicist in Surrey, England I am not in the least bothered about the long-term ability of life on the planet to adapt to climate change, or even global nuclear war. Life is a stronger force than the people who worry about biodiversity give it credit for. We as humans may not be around, but so what? No great loss.
Wanda Corn is the Robert and Ruth Halperin Professor in Art History. I don’t worry about walking under ladders, opening umbrellas inside the house, sleeping in the dark, slipping on banana peels or (any longer) getting pregnant.
W.L. “Lanny” Prichard, ’66, MS ’71, is a retired physician in Indianola, Miss. I don’t worry about what folks think about me . . . anymore.
My “Wonder (Bread) Years” were in the ’50s and ’60s, on a large cotton plantation in the Mississippi Delta, only child of a well-to-do planter and widely respected mother. My image to the rest of the world—how I looked, acted, dressed—was of paramount importance to me from my earliest memories. There was a constant sound loop going through my head: “What will people think?”
Example: the uniform of the day in high school and college was Weejuns without socks, chinos without a belt, Gant shirts and Canoe cologne. Nothing else was even close to acceptable. And to leave the dorm or fraternity house with my button-down collars unbuttoned was, well, tragic.
Life then led me through physics, math, electrical engineering, field artillery, med school and into general practice. The metamorphosed “me” was now perceived, here in my little Delta hometown, as “quirky,” “brainy,” “eccentric.” And standing out, in any way, was really stressful to this conformist guy.
Then one day, as though a too-tight rubber band had finally snapped, I awoke to realize that what others think of me is of no importance whatsoever. I began to dress just as I pleased, spend as much time with my patients as my heart desired, make free house calls, forgive debts.
It was an amazingly freeing experience. Shackles discarded. Shackles I hadn’t been consciously aware of. Shackles I needn’t have had all along.
The only things that mattered, I finally realized, were that I had chosen the correct core values and that I had lived into those values. The rest would just plain take care of itself. If choosing the right values still resulted in someone’s disapprobation? Well, gee, let’s see now—that would be their problem, now wouldn’t it?
It hasn’t happened in quite a while, but nowadays, were I to hear someone say of me: “He’s a normal, average guy,”—well, them’s fightin’ words.
ROBERT S. MANN, ’74, is a Los Angeles construction lawyer and the author of Defect-Free Buildings: A Construction Manual for Quality Control and Conflict Resolution. That the world will become uninteresting.
CURTIS SITTENFELD, ’97, has written the novels Prep and The Man of My Dreams. I say this with great affection for my alma mater and gratitude for the education I received there: I do not worry—ever, at all—about the Stanford endowment.
JENNIFER BERENSON MACLEAN, ’85, is an associate professor of religion at Roanoke College, in Salem, Va. A portion of her answer appeared in the print magazine.
This is a tough question for a typical type-A academic, who worries over just about everything. Yet after Stanford, grad school and 10 years of teaching, I have finally learned not to worry about deadlines. Don’t misunderstand me: I have not been so corrupted by the tenure system that I disregard deadlines and responsibilities. The truth is that for years I have experienced cycles of guilt-ridden procrastination—seemingly wasting time doing small jobs in the face of impending deadlines for important and often difficult jobs.
What I have learned is that my procrastination was not really procrastination at all. Instead, I’ve realized that I have some kind of internal clock that seems to know exactly how much time it takes me to accomplish a task, and that clock kicks in when the timing is right. The “procrastination” stops, and I am able to focus on the important job. Somehow all seems to get done on time, and I haven’t pulled an all-nighter since freshman-year calculus—unless you count the time I had to finalize fall semester grades just hours after giving birth to my son.
Whether or not this is a common trait, I haven’t a clue, so I’m certainly not offering anyone advice to wait for their clock to kick in and save the day. I only regret it took me so long to realize this about myself, since I could have shed this needless guilt much sooner. The truth for others is that you need to know who you are, and ultimately you have to trust yourself.
RALPH KUIPER, ’61, is a retired aerospace engineer in Los Altos. A portion of his answer appeared in the print magazine.
I don't worry about the next generation having a good number of problem solvers and humanitarians to address the problems we have left for them. To be sure, they are challenging problems—including the degradation of the environment, erosion of American high-ground leadership, use of force and attacks on individuals as the way to make a point or to solve a problem, and more. But, I also hope I don't have to worry about places like Stanford that will encourage its students to go forth into the world and be a powerful force for leaving the world better for their having been here. I am sure the next generation’s answer to this question will be a longer list, but I also don’t worry that they will leave some new challenges for their next generation.
The following is supplemental material that did not appear in the print edition of Stanford.
LAUREN PURYEAR, ’98, founded a tutoring company in Novato, Calif. Since my daughter, Meara, was born a year ago I don’t worry about my extra 10 pounds, stylish (or matching) shoes, or how my hair looks when I leave the house. I still worry about my impact on the environment and about driving safely whether or not she’s in the car. I want her to inherit a healthy planet and I want to be around to enjoy it with her.
BARRETT COWAN, ’83, MD ’88, is a urologist in Denver. I don’t worry about things over which I have no control. I don’t worry about bad weather, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes or the Sun exploding and having the Earth perish. Although these are all devastating occurrences, these events are way beyond my control, and if they truly worried me, I would never be able to sleep. I can’t control whether the Stanford football team ever has a winning season again. While I prefer that the team be successful, I don’t really worry about it. Seems pretty straightforward thus far. I don’t worry about getting cancer or dying. I know that there are some things I can do to minimize my risk for these tragic events (i.e., not smoke, exercise, eat in a healthy fashion), but even my health is somewhat out of my control.
At the same time, I don’t worry about things that I can control. I know that I will do whatever is necessary to ensure that I will succeed at the task at hand. I will make sure that the issues in my life and surroundings are dealt with in an appropriate fashion. As a physician, I know that I will take good care of my patients. As a parent, I know that my kids will be given all the necessary opportunities and encouragement to reach their full potential. I do not worry on whether I will succeed, or be happy in life, because I know that I will ensure that these things occur.
But after applying my “Stanford education” to this line of reasoning, I realize that my answer is more complicated than that. If I don’t worry about things that I can’t control, or about things I can control, what does make me worry? I do consider myself neither a control freak nor a worrywart. Suddenly, I have a headache.
When my kids are out and late coming home, do I worry? Of course I do. At those moments, they are not in my control, and the unknown can be troubling when it concerns something/someone near and dear to me. I do not worry when I am driving my children, because the situation is under my control; I trust my driving. When another teenager is driving them, and I haven’t heard from them, do I worry? Honestly, yes. Why? Perhaps because their welfare is temporarily not in my control.
So I differentiate between my “micro-environment” and the “macro-environment.” I don’t worry about things beyond my control in my macro-environment (natural disasters), but at the micro level (friends, family, home, etc,) the situations beyond my control do have the potential to worry me.
Now, the real question is: am I worried about how this answer will be received?
BARBARA BAER, ’61, MA ’64, published Pomegranate Roads: A Soviet Botanist’s Exile from Eden, about efforts to preserve genetic diversity in the pomegranate. I do not worry about the future of the pomegranate, and not because of the current commercial boom that has put thousands of new acres into cultivation. Over the past five years, my education about pomegranates has been a steep learning curve—from knowing zero to having enough information to publish a book (written by a Soviet punicologist, Dr. Gregory Levin), to knowing that not only the pomegranate but also many other minor crops that we hardly have begun to utilize in our diets are survivors beyond our wildest dreams. The pomegranate, for example, is resilient and mutable in potentially productive ways. Even in degraded environmental conditions, the pomegranate makes adjustments, is able to reduce its plant size to as small as a few inches growing from a dry crevice, while retaining its genetic heritage for the time when there will be more water and better soil. Even when there’s a high amount of radiation, or the soils have become saline, pomegranates will develop adaptations to survive and fruit in these negative conditions. I also have learned about the pomegranate’s nutritional/health values we can utilize in many ways. The more I continue to learn about the pomegranate’s adaptation in the wild and cultivation in our USDA facilities and elsewhere, the less I worry.