Winter 2015: “Letting Go of Worry” Powerful Voice Winner Margaret O’Neil

Read Margaret's essay, "I'm Only 12," about replacing her worry with gratitude.

Margaret O’Neil, a student of Susan Kandyba at Casey Middle School in Boulder, Colorado, read and responded to the YES! Magazine online article “Life After Worry” by Akaya Windwood. Windwood shares that worrying never changed the outcome of whatever she worried about. She discovers that when she replaces worry with trust she can be more present for her sister who has MS. And her friends, co-workers, and family find her more clear-headed, creative, and strong.

Writing Prompt: Think of the things you worry about. What is one worry you’d like to throw away? What would you replace your worry with, and what would you—and possibly those around you— gain by not having that worry in your life?


I’m Only 12


I’m only 12 years old. I’m only in sixth grade, can only do so many things with my life at this age. But there is one thing I can do that most anyone can do—worry.

Money, popularity, family, what other people think—these are things that cloud many people’s heads and hearts. No one but you can stop it. And, reality is, if you are like everyone else and worry about things in your life, that’s probably the last thing you want to hear.

This past summer was probably the worst 92 days of my life. I discovered that my parents were planning to get divorced, I developed anxiety and panic attacks, and on top of it all, I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone—not even my own siblings. All those nights where I begged my mom to stay with my dad, all those nights when I went to sleep sad but feeling relieved that I wouldn’t have nightmares (because it pretty much felt like I was living in one), my mom would always say one of two things: One, it isn’t your fault, or two, only you can get those worries out of your head. 

Those words of wisdom, no matter how many times I scowled or simply kept on bawling, were completely and utterly true, even if applied to the most twisted and complicated worry you could possibly think of.

Worrying is, in fact, inevitable. Everyone does it at some point in their life, no matter how big or small. It’s never your fault. Ever.

And the only way to quiet the voices that are constantly provoking treacherous questions that rack your mind  is to simply separate yourself from those things, and only you can do that.

If I could discard one worry from my head, besides my worry about my parents’ divorce, it would probably be the worry of what others think of me, or just of others, period. It is a common worry, but it can lead to even bigger ones that can cloud our vision of what we should really worry about. That girl at school who is prettier than me, or the guy who gets better grades. The jealousy of feeling like someone is so much better than you can kill. Oh, the times when I sat looking at the popular table longingly, wishing I could be the one everyone was complimenting and fawning over. But then one thing comes into play:


I would replace that worry, permanently, with gratitude. Knowing that I may not be popular, but I have friends. Knowing that I may not be magazine material, but I have a family who loves me. Knowing that I may not be the perfect size 2 athlete, but I have hobbies that I love. And knowing that there is always that one common denominator: Everyone is equal. As cheesy as it sounds, all my flaws make up me. If we could just slow down—if I could just slow down —in a moment of worry, and take even a couple of minutes, seconds to realize how grateful we are deep down inside for every mistake, flaw, and strange piece of uniqueness we have, then we could learn to love and accept ourselves. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life and all, but having self-confidence would be a huge step forward for me. Not having to be told I’m smart to believe I am smart is a dream for me.

But it doesn’t have to be.

If I—no, if we—could just be more grateful, accept our imperfections, and find a balance with our worries, the entire world would be a better place. Imagine it. The entire world wakes up one day and instantly has insanely high self-confidence—dream! It’s not that easy. But nothing is impossible. If I could just spend a few minutes of every day remembering the things in life I am so incredibly thankful for, I could feel good about myself.

What would gratitude do for you in your life?

I don’t know. I’m only 12.


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