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.