To master overthinking is first step to getting on with your future

Column by Sean Rose

I come from a long line of overthinkers.

This has always been a truth I’ve had some grasp on. One of my sisters used to have a tendency to look much too far down the line when dating, wondering if small character flaws or uncertainties about someone would lead to a self-destructing relationship later. (I have come to learn that this might actually be true of all women.)

My mom, as I assume all mothers do, has a tendency to worry. She might not deserve the aged title of worrywart, but I’m sure she owes some wrinkles to me and so displays a capacity for overthinking at times.

Once, when I was driving home for Thanksgiving, a semi truck ran me off the expressway. I called home to tell her what happened and to say I was going to jump back on the highway and I would be home soon. I can see my mom now, God bless her, on the other side of the phone, far away, unable to help her poor, roadside-stranded, only son. So she told me the only thing she could think of to aid me in jumping back onto I-64 close to rush hour.

“Turn your flashers on.”

I’m not mocking the sentiment. But I laugh thinking of how having my emergency lights flashing would make my Mazda sedan any more visible when lunging out from the median onto the road, in broad daylight, than if they were off. But she wanted to help.

It’s not the best example of overthinking, I know. But here’s one from way back in my roots.

My grandfather has said on several occasions that my family comes from “stupid stock.” Apparently, when my pioneer ancestors squeezed through the Cumberland Gap, clawed their way across the mountains and foothills of Eastern Kentucky, and saw the land open up and stretch out to the meadows of the Bluegrass — some of the most fertile land in the state — they wanted no part in it, promptly turned around toward the rocky soil they had just walked, and spent the next several generations comfortable closeted by mountains on all sides.

Perhaps they were thinking too far down the line, like my sister and her boyfriends. Was that land too good for them? Did they not deserve it? A nice place to visit maybe, but you’d probably get bored surrounded by rolling hills of fertility, right? Not for us, they said. Back to breaking our backs like we’re used to. Or maybe, as my grandfather suggests, they just weren’t the brightest of the frontier immigrants.

And today, I can’t go through the first day of a “real” job without flashing forward in my mind and seeing myself dying in an ugly suit all too soon, chained to some desk. Kind of like high school. This is what most would call overthinking.

It doesn’t help that I’m probably in the worst situation for an overthinker to be in: on the verge of graduation. A hop, skip and 12 credit hours away from my chain and my cubicle. I’m grateful for my education, and I know that I am part of a hugely privileged minority of the planet to have such opportunities. But with my family history and my fields of study, it’s difficult to come to terms with. It’s a nervous breakdown on a glacial pace.

Of course, I know overthinking won’t get me much farther than the scary places inside my head. And when you see the world through that perspective, it’s easy to understand the importance of wading through unfamiliar waters. And maybe realizing that is an advantage to such a mental scamper; at least another one besides having it wear on you mentally like an extra class might.

I’m running through the motions. I’m taking deep breaths. I’m telling myself to relax and look around. I’m turning on my emergency lights.

Sean Rose is a journalism and English senior. E-mail srose