Life After Worry
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.
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I also found that I was much more available for my sister. That was the biggest gift.
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.
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.
Akaya Windwood is president of the Rockwood Leadership Program in Berkeley, Calif. She is known nationally for her commitment to social and economic justice, and to building a new and compelling vision for effectiveness and collaboration in the non-profit sector.
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