Stop Worrying, & Start Living…
One of my favorite authors of all time is the original grand-dad of self-help books, Dale Carnegie, and in 1948 he wrote “Stop Worrying & Start Living”. He also wrote “How to Win Friends & Influence People”, the early bible of how-to when it comes to personal and professional relationships and networking. When I was roughly 14 years old my father gave me his copies of both books, which by even then had looked like they’d been around for some time. And why not? Carnegie’s advice is timeless- the same socio-cultural pains affect us now as they did back in 1948, and dad knew by 1996 that he had a world-class worrier on his hands with his middle child of three.
I still worry every single day, though at nearly thirty years old I like to think I’m much better these days at keeping my general anxiety in check, a far cry from my teenage years of the mid 1990s. And I always find, at any age, the height of my anxiety and worry most definitely rears its head in the face of transition. I have probably never been so saturated with anxiety in all of my 20s (perhaps combined) than I was in the months leading up to leaving my full time job to start my own business.
In an age where 20-somethings are still living with parents because they were unemployed, or struggling to find work, and those who did have work typically struggled to pay the bills, the idea of giving up what seemed like a steady paycheck had me pacing around the apartment day and night, interchanging scenarios of wealth and poverty in and out of my psyche. And instability and worry like that certainly have a physical toll on your body as well. I was tired, irritable, restless, nauseous and bitchy almost every single day. The questions of “what if?” ran like a jumbled sequence of movie credits, constantly through my mind… “If I give up a full time job to do something I really want….”
- “How will I pay my rent, if my business doesn’t make money?”
- “Will my relationship fail because I’m working all the time?”
- “Will my relationship fail because all I talk about is my business?”
- “Will my parents scold me for being stupid and overly ambitious?”
- “Are my ideas completely stupid and invaluable?”
- “Do I even know what I’m doing? Will I fail miserably?”
- “Will my parents/boyfriend/friends be disappointed in me if I fail miserably?”
- “Will I be disappointed in MYSELF if I fail miserably (yes…)?”
- “And if I do fail miserably, what will I do then?”
- “Will none of my friends take me seriously and write me off as ‘too good for a 9-5′?”
- “Will my siblings think I’m trying to overshadow their accomlishments with my own?”
- “Do I have to give up my social life since I’m essentially going to be poor?”
- “Where the $#%@ am I going to get affordable health insurance in New York state?”
- “What happens if I don’t have health insurance and I get hit by a bus?”
And on. And on. And on. And while these are all plausible scenarios that very well could happen in the event that I left a full time job to start my own company, with half a business plan and what I considered minimal resources… all of these things could also easily NOT happen. And for every “what if” question I asked myself that painted my ambitions in a light of obvious and expected failure, there were ten plausible positive outcomes that I wasn’t even bothering to think about and consider as opportunities.
I didn’t spend any of my time asking myself questions about what would happen if were to be successful in this endeavor. I spent little, if any, time formulating ideas that supported the vision that maybe I was meant to do this, and I very well could. And even if I did fail on the first try, perhaps it would lead to a greater understanding of myself, of my professional and personal calling, and upon one shutting, another door would open right up and hit me in the face! My life for a good year-plus was a series of negative ‘what if’s, when it should have been a series of ‘when’(s) and ‘how’(s), as in “When I finally leave this company and I am working for myself… I will have achieved my goal of work-life balance. So how do I start making that happen today?”
As human beings, we are prone to putting up the defense of considering all the negative scenarios that could happen to us and our loved ones, and worrying incessantly about those visions coming true. We do this, and we place ourselves psychologically in these awful scenarios that may never happen, because deep down we want to envision it and prove to ourselves that even if it did happen, we would survive. But we certainly don’t gain any pleasure or fulfillment from knowing simply that yes, life will probably go on. And is that enough for us, to settle for knowing that life will go on in the face of any of the million daily tragedies we conjur up? If that’s the case, then what are we actually living for, if all we strive to do is protect ourselves from death & destruction? Stop worrying. Start living. As Dale says.
Whether you’re worried about the after-effects of leaving a job, or you’re worried about losing a job involuntarily, the same thing happens. Life becomes a series of psychological ‘what if”s, and we lose sight of the goals, the fulfillment and the joy of the life at hand. We forget all of our prior accomplishments, our abilities, the reason we wanted change in the first place, and we focus on our shortcomings that we imagine will be the downfall of our plans. We forget all the people around us supporting us and cheering us on, as they have in situations before. Fact is, we never know what cards we will be dealt. I never thought I would leave Boston, but unforeseen opportunities reared their heads and I went for it. Again, I worried for months – ‘what if I broke up with the guy I was seeing and all of a sudden I was alone in New York City while all my friends were in Boston?’ And guess what – it happened. And then I met a new guy, and one day we decided we want to marry each other. That definitely wasn’t in my list of ‘what-if’s.
When you want something bad enough and you invest enough of yourself and your happiness into it, it is inevitable that you will worry about losing it. That is normal. The next step is to face that worry head-on, and replace it with something more positive to keep you moving forward.
So how do we quell worry in the face of uncertanity? Start by building awareness around it – understand when and where those thoughts start to come into your mind, and what past experiences are causing them to resurface. And when they do, ask yourself, what is the real fear working here; what is the ultimate thing you are trying to avoid? For me, it was loneliness. With leaving my job, it was a fear of not only being alone, but feeling disappointed in myself, feeling like a failure, and not being able to survive from the financial loss. Look at that worst-case scenario, and ask yourself – just how likely is it that you would be unable to survive, unable to go on, if that were to happen? Would I be unable to survive? Of course not – I have a fiance who supports me and a large family in New Jersey who are continually there for me – someone would pick my sorry ass up off the street if I failed. And then I would brush myself off, fix my hair, and try again.
Because that’s what you do when you finally stop worrying about ‘how’ to do something- you try, and you do, and you go from there. Don’t tell me you’ve never failed before in your life – you did, and you got through it, and you’re still here. And I bet you worried to death about it happening. What did you take from that experience? What opportunity did you make out of that challenge, and how are you a better person for it? We’re all far stronger and more capable than we ever give ourselves credit for. I’ll remember that the the next time I’m writing the rent check.