May 13. “Real difficulties can be overcome, it is only the imaginary ones that are unconquerable.” (Theodore N. Vail)
Do you worry? I do. As much as I have worked to eliminate worry from my life, it persists. Among all the unproductive things I may do in a day, worry has to rank near the top.
Recently I was talking to a friend who was under a lot of stress, worrying that she wouldn’t accomplish all of her obligations. She was frazzled to be sure. We talked for only a few minutes, but in that time I encouraged her to talk through what was on her mind. She quickly spit out a relatively short list of items that needed her attention. As she talked, she started formulating actions for each of the items. In less than 5 minutes she had gone from a frazzled state to one where she had an action plan. She thanked me for my help. I graciously accepted her thanks, but really I had done nothing, except encourage her to put words to her fears.
When we worry, when let problems rattle around in our heads, we give them far more life than they deserve. I see this for myself often. A work assignment or problem is dropped in my lap. Maybe it is at the end of the day or work week. It doesn’t need attention immediately, so off I go. While I am home I start to turn the issue over in my mind, and sometimes that issue starts to grow.
Last year I was managing the budget of a multi-million dollar project. One Thursday afternoon one of my team members brought me a problem. He’d discovered what appeared to be an error in a vendor payment. He wasn’t overly concerned about it, and said that he needed to do more investigation, but wanted to keep me informed. I went away for a long weekend soon after the conversation, and was out of communication.
Well, that weekend I fretted and feared. What if we’d broken policy? What if the payment shouldn’t have been made at all? Could I be in trouble? Might my company be out thousands of dollars? All weekend long I allowed this worry to fester. What started out as a brief conversation blew up in my mind. By the time Sunday night came, I was unable to sleep. I arrived extra early on Monday morning, my stomach in knots.
Later that morning my team member came in. Soon after logging in he came to my desk, all smiles. The “problem” had been a simple error in calculation. He had just verified that all was well, and no issue existed. I sighed, and went for a 10 minute walk to burn off my stress.
What had I done there? I had taken a simple, low-level warning of a possible problem, and blew it up in my head. I lost sleep, reduced the enjoyment of my weekend, and burdened myself unnecessarily. All because I let worry get in the way. Had I followed the original advice of my team member and just enjoyed my weekend, all would have been well. Even if the items I imagined had been remotely true, we would have handled them on Monday.
No one in the history of humankind has ever worried their way to the solution of a problem. It is only through action that solutions come. Getting the worries out of my mind, and into action is always the most productive way to go.