I’ve Stopped Taking Things Personally, and It Annoys People Trying to Bait Me Into Arguments or Fights

If you only have a minute:

I have learned not to take things personally, which has made me calmer and less reactive. I share personal anecdotes of how I used to lose my temper, and how I have learned to be more mindful and tolerant. I also discuss how my wife and daughter have helped me become calmer and more mindful. I conclude that most things and people are not worth getting upset over, and focus on what matters to me.

If you have more than a minute:

As I’m approaching my mid-forties, I’ve noticed something about myself. I am no longer bothered by things that used to bother me. I used to be a hothead in my youth. Now, I only get riled up by big and important things. Now, it takes work.

When I worked at a hospital, I chased after a young nurse who worked in the emergency department. (You may know this story already.) One day, after she went out on several dates with the guy who would eventually become her husband (and then ex-husband), I asked her why she didn’t talk to me as much as she used to. Sure, I was jealous that she was dating someone, but I still wanted to chat with her. We had good chats. “If you’re asking me if I love him more than I want to be your friend, then I guess I love him more.”

Dear reader, I grabbed a chair and threw it against the ground and stomped my way out of that room. I was so angry that I missed several important things I had to do before I went home that morning. For hours, no one could talk any sense into me. My brain was flooded with thoughts of wanting to call her and tell her that she broke my heart, and that he would break her heart in due time. (He did, but not because I foresaw it… And it took years, too.)

This was not the only instance of me losing my temper. I lost my temper playing soccer all the time. I would let kids who were better than me get into my head and live there rent-free during the game and for some time afterwards. It would take some time before I forgot how someone outplayed me or made me look like a fool.

Then there was school. Even during my doctoral degree, anything less than an A was a cause for panic. When I failed a midterm exam in biostatistics, and when that led to a C grade for the course, I called my wife and told her how I wanted to quit the doctoral program and save me the stress of not understanding biostatistics. I didn’t quit, of course. She talked me off that ledge and talked some sense into me.

And that is where the transition to who I am now began: when I met her.

We have been married for thirteen years, and have known each other for seventeen. She knows what gets me going and what I could care less about. And she has learned to explain things to me in a way that makes me understand that some things are not worth getting upset over. Someone cut me off on the road? Well, I hope they get home safe. Someone gave me bad service at a restaurant? Well, I hope they get a job that makes them feel better. Some duded talks trash about my ethnicity and tells me to “go home” to my country? Well, joke’s on him because no one is forcing me to return to Texas.

The little girl we have has also had a hand in making me calmer. She is so happy and full of life. She gets sad for ten seconds, then she takes deep breaths and fixes the situation. That is something I’ve practiced with her since she was a toddler. We would take deep breaths when she got upset and ask her why she was crying. It is a way to help her be mindful of the situation and begin putting together a strategy to fix it.

I hope it keeps her out of trouble from emotional outbursts like mine when she is older. As male and female brain chemistry is different on average, I hope she has all my strengths and none of my weaknesses. Because I do have weaknesses, dear reader. I do.

Had I been more mindful of the situation twenty years ago in that hospital, I would have just accepted that the nurse had a boyfriend who told her not to talk to me anymore (for whatever reason, but probably because I intimidated him with my ability to do simple math). I would have moved on faster. I would have focused more on my MPH studies, which would eventually lead me to bigger and better ponds with bigger and better fish.

But I guess this level of tolerance and thinking twice or three times before responding to nonsense takes time to master. It comes with age. Though there are those my age or older who still lose their minds when the smallest thing affects their plans or makes them react. Just the other week, I was playing soccer with some guy a little younger than me, but not much. He was faster than me, so I decided not to chase him around the whole field. I’d be exhausted and worthless before the second half. Instead, I decided to guard the zone where he was and then pull him with me when I had the ball. All the while, I kept pointing out his mistakes or telling him he needed to work on this or that.

Little by little, I crept into his head. Finally, after I kicked the ball from between his legs and shook my finger like Dikembe “Not In My House” Mutombo, he charged at me and shoved me to the ground. His teammates held him back as he went to punch me. Me? I just sat on the ground and smiled. There was no point in fighting. It wasn’t the World Cup. Oh, and my kid was on the sideline. One bad punch, and I’d have to take a trip to the emergency room, or the police station. And who would have taken care of her? Nah… It was worth it to see him lose his cool, get a yellow card, and be useless for the second half of the game, as he shied away from getting that second yellow and making his team lose.

After the game, one of his teammates apologized to me. “He used to play Division One soccer. I’ve never seen him so angry,” he said. ”Yeah, I have that effect on people.”

Of course, there are always things that keep me up at night, like the myriad of public health problems and the seemingly inept ways in which politicians deal with things only to worsen them. I worry about the Republicans who want less government in people’s lives, but they’re quick to pass law after law criminalizing the private interactions between healthcare providers and patients, or between consenting adults who’ve declared their love for each other. I also worry about the Democrats, who can’t seem to control spending. And don’t get me started about the Independents, or the one-issue voters.

But I don’t react (as much) anymore. I look at the attack, analyze it, then determine if it’s worth answering. And, you know what? Most things, and most people, are not worth the bother. My family, my friends, and the people I serve are.

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