There’s a lot to be worried about these days, what with gulfs drowning in oil, economies failing, racial profiling, etc. Just one glance of any newspaper will offer plenty of fodder for worry. Perhaps you have some very personal worries about your family, finances, or organizational survival.
A number of years ago, my sister was diagnosed with MS. As you might imagine, that was a very scary time for our family. While we were trying to figure out how to best meet her changing needs, I was in touch with her often. I remember a week when I’d been traveling, when we’d not talked for several days, and I called her saying: “I’ve been worried about you! How are things going?”
To my surprise, she bristled and said, “Please don’t worry about me. You can pray, or send me good wishes or think about me, but worry doesn’t help—in fact, it makes it harder for me.” I was stunned. Here I was, trying to tell her how much I cared, and she got short with me.
And then I thought about it.
My sister was right. There was no way that my negative cloud of worry could have been beneficial to her, even if my intentions were good. As I further considered what she’d said, I realized that worry had never changed the outcome of whatever I was worried about. Not once. The only thing worry did was to affect how I felt and experienced what was happening. And it never made me feel better. Not once.
My sister is very wise.
So, I made a decision not to worry. Ever. I began to understand that it was a habit of my mind. My heart doesn’t worry, my body doesn’t worry, only my head does. I chose to establish a new habit of consideration and trust—trust that people are tremendously resilient and that the universe could operate without my constant nagging interference. But it wasn’t enough to just not worry; I needed to replace the habit of worry with something else, and I chose trust.
Much to my surprise, I found that not worrying increased my capacity to attend to what was in front of me. All that energy I’d been using to worry was freed up for me to use in much more creative and interesting ways—like helping to change the world.
As leaders, it is important to notice how we spend our time, and to take responsibility for the impact we have on others. Our worry affects those around us, even when we think we are “managing” it well.I also found that I was much more available for my sister. That was the biggest gift.
When I stopped worrying, it made a big difference in how I showed up in meetings, to my partner, and with my friends and family. I had a clearer head because it wasn’t all fogged up with rat-in-the-wheel worry. I became much more effective. And people noticed.
I invite you to take a moment and consider your relationship to worry.
- What does it represent to you? Caring? Love? Attentiveness? Something else?
- How might you care for, love and attend to those around you without bringing a cloud of worry?
- If you chose not to worry, what might change in your life? What might get freed up?
- With what might you replace the worry? Compassion? Trust? Meditation?
There’s a saying that worry is a prayer invoking that which we don’t want. Imagine what could happen if instead of focusing on worst-case scenarios and fears, we put our attention on what we deeply desire and are working toward?
A movement of worried leaders is dreadful to imagine. A movement of purposeful, visionary, mentally and emotionally clear leaders is exhilarating!
In the coming years, we are going to need leaders who are of clear heart, vision, and mind. Leading from a place of clarity rather than worry could be one of our greatest tools. It frees us to be increasingly creative, inspirational, and effective.
So let’s not worry. Let’s be caring and concerned about our world, clear in our purposes, strong in our visions, and willing to act.
It is understandable that your students worry. What’s more important is how they handle these troubling thoughts. Sometimes the simple act of acknowledging worry helps lifts the burden. Try the activity described below. Like Akaya Windwood, perhaps your students can replace the habit of worry with something else.
1. On a poster size piece of paper or “graffiti board” in your classroom, ask your students to come up to the board and write down something they worry about.
2. Read some of the items on the graffiti board. Ask your students and discuss, “What do we have to gain by worrying about these things?
3. Then, ask your students and discuss, “If we could throw away our worries, what would we gain?”
4. On a piece of scratch paper, have each student write down one worry they’d like to throw away.
5. Students will then crumple their pieces of paper and put them in a container for the entire class.
6. A designated “worry-free” fairy (the student can dress up in fairy wings—you know how students of all ages like to have a little fun) will then take this bowl of worries and throw them away.
Perhaps this will become a ritual you and your students do before a big test or finals, or at the beginning or end of each week. See how your students change after making the decision to worry less or not at all.
If you’d like to share photos of your “What?! Me, worry?” students, send them to email@example.com I’ll post them on our For Teachers website so others may be inspired.