In the wonderful words of the great Baz Luhrmann,
‘Don’t worry about the future, Or, worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum...’
What I take from this and have found to be true in both my life and work, is that worrying is not only going to fail to protect you for whatever it is you are afraid of, but it will also distract you from being able to do anything remotely productive regarding that same issue.
It goes without saying that there are plenty of things in life that one could worry about, if you felt so inclined. The nature of life, both professionally and personally, is filled with uncertainty. To ignore this would be to either naive or ignorant.
But, the issue here is not the uncertainty (which is unavoidable), but what you do about it. And, in addressing this issue, an onslaught of other challenges come to the forefront... anxiety, insecurity, imposter syndrome, self-worth and self-confidence, just to name a few.
So, this is by no means a simple or straight forward topic. But, what I hope to do is share just a few of the useful tips and tricks that I have found ever-so useful in helping me put down the bubble gum and pick up the tools to help myself.
- Work out what you are actually afraid of
Often the things that we agonise over have ‘the big and scary outcome’. This could be; missing the deadline, fumbling the presentation or letting down the team. But, the question that is essential to ask is: what is the foundation of this fear?
The deadline itself is not the fear. It is the result of missing it that gives you the gut wrenching sensation throughout your body. Once you take the time to unpack these factors, your concerns can become more accessible and less mysterious. You stop positioning that one moment as the centre of all fear and can start to unpack what you are finding hard and allow yourself to start the journey of addressing the root issue, rather than constantly being at the whim of its manifestations.
- Identify the worst-case scenario (for the sake of realism)
Now, I have to be honest, this approach doesn’t always work seamlessly, or without downside. But - in many instances, sitting down and getting comfortable with the realities at hand can provide a somewhat freeing realisation. If you can look at the ‘worst case scenario’ and say of course I don’t want that to happen, but it is entirely manageable, you are somewhat less constricted by the overwhelming fear of its occurrence.
- Identify what is and isn’t in your control
The part of our brain that likes to fuel our worries would have you believe that you are both entirely in control of your situation and yet somehow also entirely at the mercy of it. It is well worth taking the time to calmly sit down and assess, what of the things in front of you can you influence directly, now put them in one list. What of the things in front of you can you influence indirectly (either through getting support from others or creating the environment for your desired outcome to occur), great, put them on another list. And, finally, what do you have no sway over what - so - ever, great, put them on a list and either; throw them out the window or keep them only for the sake of reminding yourself that they are out of your control.
- Outline practical solutions or preventative measures
Now that you know what you can influence, both directly and indirectly, you now have somewhere to channel all of that, very useful (!), nervous energy! Turn these factors into practical actions that can be taken. It is as simple as channelling your fear of fumbling your presentation into a clear rehearsal plan. The solutions or actions to be taken in this step may not always be clear, which is why our final step is so incredibly important.
- Rally support
Do not fall into a state of worry-induced paralysis. If you are facing a difficult task, rally support and give yourself the best chance for success. As a good friend of mine often tells me, ‘I believe you can do anything, but you must remember that you can’t do everything at once’. These wise words that I now do my best to live by serve as a reminder that needing help is no mark on your accomplishment, skill or leadership ability, it is merely self-awareness and humility in action. Both of which are sensational qualities for a leader to hold.
If you have made it all the way through this post, I hope that you have taken away some thoughts to aid in the moments where worry creeps in and starts to distract you. Make sure to take it step by step and always remember that every leader needs support and every situation provides a lesson to be learned!
Written by Taylor Hawkins, Head Of Partnerships at The Dream Collective.