The Gift of Worry: Baby Steps toward Success

A few years ago, I was teaching a summer intensive college-readiness Academic Writing course to 20 EOF students at Drew University. My co-teacher, Sandra Jamieson (who is my teaching teacher, and what a privilege that has been!) facilitated the theoretical and application parts of teaching composition and rhetoric to this intrepid and highly motivated first-generation student group. I facilitated the emotional management training of young minds learning to become strong and effective academic writers finding, and using their voices.

Sandra and the students and I made a pretty fantastic team (my yardstick for this claim? I had fun, the class had fun, and we all learned a lot, academically and spiritually).

I find teachers every day on the path of life. Of them, my students continue to be the most potent. Toward the end of the 6-week course, one prescient 17-and-a-half-year old asked me, ‘as we start college, what are some things we should be worrying about that we are not, and what are the things we are worrying about that we don’t need to?’

The question has become a grounding tool for my life. We — students, learners, professionals, humans — live our lives worrying today about outcomes that are not in our control, and not worrying about the action steps that are in our control. Herein lies the crux of about 70% of life’s problems.

For example, I have worried, off and on for about 5 years now, about never getting around to starting this blog, and never getting my consulting business to be anything beyond a pipe dream, and how this will mean I have failed to live up to one of my many potentials… etc. etc. etc. I have worried, and worried, about the failure-outcome. What I have not (until now) worried about is the success-step: ‘what is my ONE, concrete baby step today toward my goal?’

We spend our lives worrying, some more than others. (For some of us, worry unaddressed morphs into debilitating anxiety — more on this in another post). The fact is, worry is a human trait. Worry has a place in our survival manual as a species. If it didn’t, genetic mutation would have gotten rid of it millions of years ago. Worry leads to problem identification, planning, implementation, assessment, repeat until well honed. If we weren’t worrying about ensuring food through the winter, we would not squirrel away some of the grain the community had so painstakingly grown over the summer. If I weren’t worried about the quality of my life in my 70s, I would not plan out retirement savings.

Worrying is not the problem. The problem is, we are not trained to critically think through managing our worries. And because we are not trained to manage it, it starts to (mis)-manage US. And then all hell breaks loose, and we have a whole new set of items to worry about.

The answer I gave to my student as a quick response that moment was that, as students (and as non-critically-thinking humans, in general) we worry about what is way beyond our control (will I get an A in this course at the end of the semester?), and don’t worry enough about the CONCRETE action steps that ARE in our control (how many hours will I study today for the test tomorrow that is 25% of my overall grade for this class?)

We worry about an outcome that is far, far out there (will I get a good job after I graduate?), and not about the concrete, specific steps we can take in this moment to manage that worry (which internship will I apply for today? When during the day today will I designate 2 hours to write up a draft cover letter to email to Maya?)

I spent about 15 minutes this morning worrying that I’ll never get a blog entry written and posted.

Then I thought of my student-Teacher from summer EOF. I got my phone (the laptop is out of charge, of course 🙄). I wrote one sentence. Then another. Then another. Now I will revise. Then I will post.

That’s one blog post I have written.

What’s your one, concrete, baby-step action item today to address a worry? Post in “Comments” below.

Let’s inspire each other.

Storytell Your Success.

— Maya.


When Contract Managers, Software Engineers, and Finance Directors Hire

[TLDR: The variety of human “success” journeys is never-ending and yet, at the core, the same values abide when it comes to defining success strategies: trust; honesty; genuineness; caring for the group as much as for the self; seeking community; and finding purpose in one’s work. ]

Dear Readers:

I had the privilege today of talking to three different groups of professionals at a career fair hosted by Harris Corporation ( My area of training, education, and counseling is career success/life success. I asked 2 questions of professionals across fields of specialization, including Engineers in their late 20s/early 30s, Directors in their early 40s, and Executive/upper-level Managers in their mid-60s.  To various extents, from a single project to holistic oversight/reporting to the company board of Directors, each of these individuals is involved in project management, including hiring, training, and onboarding. Across their range of experience and responsibilities, the professionals talked about the following characteristics as being vital to success in the 21st century global workplace.

Question 1. What are 2-3 key characteristics that make young professionals successful when completing internships and first few jobs after graduation?  

  1. Having a hungry and thirsty mindset, and being willing to constantly,  passionately learn. The successful candidate embraces her project and is willing to absorb information and input from every source. “Be into your work.”
  2. Showing up. The successful candidate comes to work with whole spirit, body, mind, and enthusiasm. She becomes known for her high standard of work ethic and accountability, and for being dedicated to the task, the project, and the team. “Be focused. Be honest. Be driven.”  
  3. Taking ownership of the project. The successful candidate owns her project. She is willing to see it from start to finish, not take no for an answer, ask questions, find answers, and take responsibility not for the product alone, but for her part in the team and the overall mission of the company. “Don’t make excuses.”
  4. Developing high proficiency in communication skills. The successful candidate hones his listening skills, particularly the ability to accept constant feedback as an inherent, vital part of professional growth (rather than a personal commentary). He develops the ability to assess his audience and talk to various people across the table (literally or metaphorically). He also masters the ability to be specific, cogent, and concise. “When asking about the status of a project, I need to know the salient points in 2-3 sentences.” 

Question 2: What is one thing you wish you knew then (when you were a college graduate/young professional yourself) that you know now? 

  1. Be open to change, and to taking risks. Careers almost, almost always take convoluted routes and take time to be set up. Take chances. Explore. Do tasks that “feel” boring. Explore opportunities so you can find out what it is that you really like doing every day. Seek out opportunities and work hard at each one so you know when the “right” opportunity comes along. Lateral shifts might not make sense now, but a new project, new learning, new skills, and additional experience will help you move vertically in a few years. Don’t say “no.” Say “yes.” Teach yourself. Figure it out. Become known as the problem solver.
  2. Be adaptable and flexible. We work today in multi-faceted contexts, with different people, different cultures, different demographics, different generations. Having a mindset that seeks out the positive and the connections is key. Explore yourself, and understand others. Be passionate about people.
  3. Be a smart worker. Learn to bring everyone forward. When the team and the project wins, everyone wins. Every time. EI (Emotional Intelligence) matters. “Build alliances. Collaborate. Learn to help others leverage their best skills.”
  4. Failure is a key to success. Put in your 100%, every day. And then be ready to face (perhaps even welcome), and process failure. Do not let failure paralyze. Return to the drawing board. Ask for feedback. Find mentors. Learn from the experience. “If you don’t fail, you won’t grow. Experience cannot be speeded up.” 

My own takeaway: The willingness of professionals to help others, to patiently talk with pesky Career Advisors like myself, and share knowledge, strategies, journeys, and hard-earned wisdom with no direct ROI (Return on Investment) in sight — is truly humbling and inspiring. Days like today (as do most days) remind me of why it is that I am in love with what I do. Because, for the most part, my work keeps me in constant touch with the best parts of humanity.

To each and every one of the Harris Corporation professionals who took the time tonight to share their insights and help new(ish) professionals in the making: THANK YOU!

Questions for Readers: 1. What is a key professional (human) skill in your field that you have found to be vital to career success? 2. What is one thing you wish you had known ‘then’ (when you started your life in the professional work world) that you know now?

Looking forward to your responses. And here’s to staying warm!

— Maya