How I Stopped Sweating the Small Stuff

Do a search on Amazon for the title “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” and a long list will appear. There is a text for everyone, as well as versions that target working individuals, teens, or even those in love. Worrying about the little things in life is something everyone can relate to. Delving into my past, I can say with certainty that at times, the small stuff does matter.

For example, a ballerina who doesn’t focus on a seemingly infinite number of precise details has no hope of joining a professional company. If a coxswain doesn’t line the boat up precisely at the start line, the crew will be disqualified from the race.

After working as a waitress at a prestigious country club in the Boston area, however, I learned that what matters most is our ability to ascertain when the small stuff matters and when it doesn’t. And when it doesn’t, our concerns look a bit foolish.

“Where is the quinoa on this salad?”

The firm tone of the woman’s voice, combined with the scowl on her face, made the question come off more like a statement. “And you brought me a full glass of wine. I ordered a half glass.” She glanced over at her husband and rolled her eyes. I, on the other hand, began to question why I took this job. We all have people in our lives who intimidate us. Someone who makes us feel inferior and causes us to question our own abilities. For me, this person was dressed in a visor and a tennis skirt, and at the moment, she was doing a great job of making me feel incompetent.

I applied to be a waitress at the insistence of my mother, who to this day tells stories about waitressing in high school. A week after hitting the submit button on the application, I found myself standing in the lobby of the palatial clubhouse, complete with overstuffed chairs, a fireplace, and a grand staircase. When the dining room manager appeared, I plastered a smile on my face, eager to show him that I was a good fit for the hospitality industry. Five minutes later, I skipped out the door with my training binder, name tag, and complimentary club polo shirt. How hard could this job possibly be?

On day one, I shadowed a veteran waitress who shared what she told me was her best piece of advice: don’t be intimidated by the members—they’re just people. I looked at her and laughed, unsure of what she meant. I quickly learned, however, that the members had high expectations.

During a lull that evening, the manager pulled me aside and reminded me of the rules. I was never to say “no problem” or refer to the members as “guys.” It was critical that I serve from the left and clear from the right, “like you’re hugging the customer!” he told me. And finally, I had to be present without being noticed. “Now remember,” he said, “these members are paying a lot of money to be here. They are important people with great influence.”

With much reluctance, I dragged myself back the next day. The training wheels had come off, and I was expected to take tables on my own. Making my way through the sea of Lily Pulitzer and Vineyard Vines, I approached my first table.

“Hi, I’m Amy, and I’ll be your server tonight. How are you this evening?” No response. The members kept their gazes down as if they had been hypnotized by their menus. I wish the lack of a warm welcome was the worst part of my night. There was the woman who was upset because her salad was “too big,” the man who started yelling when I told him that we had run out of key lime pie, and the retired professor who, not pleased with his meal, decided to go back to the kitchen and cook it himself. I had only worked one night, and I already wanted to quit.

It took a few weeks, but I eventually overcame my fear of the dining room occupants. I even started to find their “small stuff” requests amusing. I still wished they would frown less and just enjoy their friends and family. Give their excess salad to their significant other, go ahead and drink the extra half glass of wine, and simply wipe away the cumin with their fork.

They weren’t aware of it, but they were ruining their evening by sweating the small stuff.

Just like the country club members, Boston College students worry about the little things all the time. Sometimes it’s warranted, sometimes it’s not.

We get overly anxious when we receive a poor grade on homework or a quiz, despite the fact that these assignments often make up an insignificant portion of our overall course grade. In this case, the time we spend worrying would be better spent meeting with the professor and ensuring that we have a good understanding of the high-level concepts. There are also many occasions when we don’t get selected to join a club or sports team. Although disappointing, these situations give us the opportunity to discover something else we are passionate about. So, let’s not work ourselves up into a frenzy over the small stuff. Instead, let’s strive to learn when the small stuff matters and when it doesn’t.

Our time at BC is short. Unlike the country club staff, we want to enjoy every minute.

Featured Image by Abby Paulson / Heights Editor