The clock on the dresser reads 2:00 am. Its blue glow reminds me that morning is getting closer, and I have still not slept. My mind will not stop turning over the parent phone call I had yesterday at work and the follow-up meeting that will happen in the morning. Did I say the right things? What will they do tomorrow?
Worst case scenario. I go there too frequently. I imagine an outcome that is far worse than anything I’ve experienced. I can’t explain it, but I know it is not healthy.
Last week I saw the new Tom Hanks/Steven Spielberg movie Bridge of Spies. A Russian spy is arrested, and the intrigue commences. Several times in the movie the man is in dire straits. Tom Hanks, as his lawyer, observes each time that he doesn’t look worried. He responds, “Would it help?”
Would it help? A powerful question. Life is short. It is a waste of time to spend any of it on things that will not help…help us, help our family and friends, help the world. Worry is one of those things that does not ever help. It is always a waste of precious time.
Leaders are confronted with difficult situations on a daily basis. It is tempting to rehash each phone call, each meeting, each decision. Rarely will those moments go exactly the way you hoped. There is almost always something you could have said or done differently.
Reflection is critical for growth. It is important to think through how those moments were handled and the eventual results. There will be new challenges tomorrow, and effective leaders learn and grow.
But worrying about what has passed does not help you grow, In fact, it stifles growth. If I am frozen by regret or constantly questioning decisions I have made, I cannot be effective in the new moment. No one can change the past. Moving forward is one path to serenity.
I love anticipation. The two weeks before a trip are often as much fun as the actual trip. But inevitably I will think about things that could go wrong, and worrying about something in the future is also wasted time. Your flights may be delayed, or your hotel may disappoint. The airline may lose your luggage, or the weather may be horrible. Or…everything may be perfect. You could worry, but would it help? No!
The same can be said of the difficult phone calls, meetings, and events that a leader anticipates at work the next day. Plan well. Consider possible reactions and ramifications. Be strategic. Then let it go.
There have been any number of difficult situations I have navigated as a leader. Some were small. Some were large and quite public. In neither case did the situation get better because I worried about it. Worrying takes my sense of calm and sometimes robs me of rational thought. It keeps me awake at night, and it causes anxiety. And in no case did it help. In fact, it hurts. Now you are going into that situation tired and nervous.
For me, exercise helps. A long walk clears my head. Time with friends, movies, and television help distract me. Reading a good book or writing a blog works too.
The key is to recognize when you are worrying and take steps to stop. There may be times when professional help is needed. Get it. Many times though, self-awareness is the most important step. Recognize it. Address it. And get a better night’s sleep.