I have a coach…a personal coach. I have had a personal coach for as long as I can remember. I have always found great value in having someone who listens and suggests. Sometimes my coach has been within the organisation and sometimes from outside. In every case their support has been invaluable.
I think a great deal about everything I see and hear. Sometimes I probably think too much…and sometimes probably too little. In either scenario, someone I trust and whose counsel I value, is of great help.
I spoke to my coach on Friday as I was driving home at the end of another event-packed week. We talked about change and challenge, opportunity and responsibility, work and life. Towards the end of our conversation, my coach asked me what I was worrying about most…
At that moment I realised – and in hindsight I am sure this was the intent of her question – that although I may have many character flaws, worrying is something I work strenuously to avoid. I always have a much longer list of things I don’t worry about than things I do.
I believe there are two principal dimensions to worry – the past and the future. We have all made mistakes – me especially – in the past. We have all proposed or done things that turned out wrong…or at least didn’t turn out as we wanted or expected. We can’t do anything to change this. The best we can do is to learn from our experiences and move on. Anything else is an energy drain.
Moreover, nobody can predict what will happen tomorrow…and yet it is easy for us to spend so much time trying to do just that and – worse still – worrying about everything that could possibly go wrong. Not only is this another ‘energy drain’ – it is also a sure way to not do something…something that could easily turn out wonderfully well.
And yet ‘worry’ is such a common way for us to communicate…I am worried about my study, your experiment, our presentation etc. Some years ago when I was a project lead my boss told me he was worried about our project strategy. ‘Well I’m not worried, and nor should you be’ was my confident reply. This clearly didn’t help him…and in reality what was I thinking? Far from being born of ignorance, his statement was based on caring, experience and understanding.
Sometime later, a different boss told me he was worried that I was about to take on too diverse a set of responsibilities. And my answer? ‘I’m worried about that as well’. My boss paused….thought for a moment…and replied – OK, you should go ahead then.
There are, however, times when I suspect an element of anxiety can help us. We work in research and development. Much of what we do at every level is complicated, problematic and has outcomes that are difficult to predict…yet we continue to experiment, test hypotheses and challenge assumptions. If we didn’t have any concerns about what we do then I fear we would end up being careless.
We all benefit from feeling some degree of control over what we are doing – I certainly do. It helps us worry less, be happy more, and be engaged further. And so my approach is to focus my energy on things I know I can control, and – failing that – things I believe I can influence. What approach should I adopt? What could work? What could happen? What would I do next? I think. I assess. I plan. I don’t worry.
We all have far more control than we realise.