What Happened When I Gave up Agita for Lent

Earlier this month, I put serious thought into what I should give up for Lent. Chocolate? Wine? Social Media? Discussions about the topic end up sounding like a parlor game. Wine? Are you mad? Aren’t you afraid you’ll wind up strangling your husband instead? or Do you think Jesus really cares whether you eat chocolate, and do you think that’s what he was pining for during those 40 days in the desert? Ha ha, religious humor.

I participate in Lent mostly because I like the idea of spending roughly 40 days focused on spiritual self-improvement. Giving up wine or chocolate or even Facebook might make me a different person — grumpier, perhaps? — but does it really have the power to change me in a lasting way? My answer is no.

So instead, I decided to give up agita for Lent. Now, for those of you unfortunate enough to grow up outside of New York City, you might wonder — what the hell is she talking about? Agita is this fantastic word, of Italian origin, that describes that nervous anxious feeling you get in your gut whenever you think about something that scares you or deal with something stressful. For example: Ugh, watching my kids on the monkey bars gives me such agita. Or: I just did my taxes, and I thought I’d die from the agita. Great word; feel free to use it liberally (pronounced a-ji-DA.)

So whenever I woke up at 3 a.m. wondering: ACK! Where is that Malaysian plane and is it being weaponized by terrorists who have a nuclear bomb? (yes, I did that) I stopped, slowed down my brain and reminded myself that no, I gave up agita for Lent. So I’m not worrying about stupid crap anymore.

But here’s the thing about life. Try to improve yourself, and you will be tested. Aim to lose weight? Of course that’s when your sister will come to the house with homemade cupcakes. Want to swear less? That’s when you’ll slam your finger in the car door. Trust me, and think about  it, and you’ll know — whenever you try to pick yourself up something will try to knock you down.

So here’s what happened once I decided to give up agita:

  • My most-regular, reliable client had its editorial budget slashed which meant bye-bye regular, reliable income.
  • My CPA called to say that I owe three times what I expected to owe on my taxes. (A total amount that does not correlate with the amount of cash we currently have.)

Now here’s the genius of this: As a self-employed freelance-writer, money in and money out is my biggest worry. So of course, this is what would be thrown at me. AGITA! Right? Except, remember, I gave that up for Lent so…

Whenever I became gripped with panic over the money thing I reminded myself — you’re not going to go there. I didn’t let my heart race. My stomach was forbidden from either churning nor gurgling. I inhaled, I exhaled and I just Let It Go. I decided that if history is any guide, the amount of energy I have expended worrying about my income has, in the end, always been a complete waste. Because things always seem to work out. Why? Not because I buy a winning scratch-off or find myself a Sugar Daddy but rather because I GET SHIT DONE.

And this is the epiphany of being 40. Lose a client? Guess what, I made up those lost sales and then some and will end this first quarter having surpassed my sales goals. The tax man is after me? Eh, I’ll set up a payment plan. The feds be paid when they get paid. Every problem has a solution that does not at all involve my breaking into a cold sweat at 3 a.m.

This all boils down to know-how and confidence. If I believe more in myself, I’m able to keep agita at bay. And if I accept what I can control (finding clients) and what I can’t (finding that airplane), then the scope of what I should worry about and shouldn’t changes dramatically.

Am I saying I’m never going to worry about anything ever again? That’s just not my nature. Of course I’m going to worry. But I hope I can carry with me this Lenten lesson that focusing on solutions, rather than the enormity of the problem, is both empowering and sleep-inducing.

What do you think?

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