A few days ago, my car was towed. I ended up paying almost $500 to retrieve my car and to pay for the parking ticket that notified me that I had parked in a towed-away zone, before they actually towed my car away. How courteous they were to give me advanced notice! As soon as I found out that my car had been towed, I went to pick up my car and postponed a meeting with my friend for an hour.
After I got my car back, I met my friend.
He was surprised that I had a big, happy smile on my face, and he asked, “How come you look so cheerful and happy? I thought your car just got towed.”
I said “Yes, but it’s ok. I’m not that upset about it.”
“How come?” He probed. I paused for a moment and thought. Yes, getting my car towed was a big hassle. Yes, the fines were expensive. No, I don’t have a lot of extra money sitting around to donate to the City of San Francisco. Why then wasn’t I more upset? Here’s what came to mind.
First, I thought about all of the alternatives available to me that would have prevented my car from being towed. I could have parked my car in a garage, but that would have cost me $300 a month. I have been parking on the street for almost 2 years, and I’ve received several parking tickets and one towing. The total cost of parking on the street has still been significantly lower than the cost of parking in a garage. I did the math long time ago and knew that street parking was a better deal for me. Parking tickets and towing fees are my parking cost — they’re my cost of living in the beautiful and fascinating San Francisco. And they’re much less expensive than a garage.
Second, the parking ticket and towing fee were finite, sunk costs. There was nothing I could do to eliminate them or make them smaller. The damage was, pure and simple, $500. It didn’t make sense for me to let the towing cause more “damage” – i.e., letting myself get upset and ruining my evening. For a moment, I considered cancelling the meeting with my friend and staying at home to mope and feel sorry for myself. Instead, I decided to put what happened behind me and enjoy quality time with my friend. The fact that I had to pay almost $500 to retrieve my car was just an event, and I did not need to create an upsetting story around it to make it a horrible event.
While catching up with my friend, I was in very good spirits. We had a great conversation, and I feel connected and fulfilled. If my mind was occupied with the negative thoughts about the hassle and the expensive fines, I would have missed a wonderful evening.
Finally, I put the towing into a larger perspective. In a big schema of things, getting my car towed was not that big of a problem. It was just about money and an hour of my time, and not about my health. A lot of problems in our life are like that. They are really small, temporary, and unimportant compared to many other problems. And life is just too short to spend my precious time and energy to get upset about unimportant stuff.
Or, as some of my American friends say, don’t sweat the small stuff – even if the small stuff costs you $500.