You know the saying, “Worrying is like a rocking chair. It’ll give you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere”? Well, it’s true: Worrying is a complete and utter misuse of our energy, power, and imagination. All of us have fears, “what if's,” and incessant mental chatter about what could go wrong in the future. These thoughts do nothing but paralyze us.
The good news: The things we worry about, even if they actually happen, wouldn’t be nearly as terrible we think. As psychological researcher Shawn Achor writes in his book The Happiness Advantage, “Adversities, no matter what they are, simply don’t hit us as hard as we think they will. Our fear of consequences is always worse than the consequences themselves.”
Here are eight common worries I’ve found plague far too many of us that deserve to be debunked.
1. “I can’t take time off.”
If we take two weeks off work to have a little time out or to travel, so many people think: Catastrophe! Disaster! But what we think might happen is often so far removed from reality. I recently met someone who was proud of the fact that he never takes time off work (sorry, but joke’s on you if you never use your vacation days!). I spoke about a holiday I was planning. “I could never take that much time off,” he said. I asked why. He had no good reason. So what are we really afraid of?
The truth is, if a bus hit you tomorrow, the company would still go on without you. Taking a break is fine. In fact, it’s better than fine: It restores you and helps you work better. Even top CEOs and the president of the United States take vacation. Don’t let this year pass you by without a break!
2. “I couldn’t possibly go after my dream job.”
Sometimes it might seem easier to avoid striving for what your heart truly wants rather than risk pursuing it and be disappointed. But it’s much easier to fail at being a lawyer if it’s being a writer that you dream of. Sure you can still thrive in a career in law, but dreams don’t dissolve just because they scare you. Dreams never die no matter how much we try to silence them (or dispose of them) with alternative success. Following your true passion, at least in some capacity, is your obligation to yourself. And your life can radically change for the better when you do.
3. "I’m terrible at speaking in front of a crowd."
Public speaking (or networking) is feared and avoided by most people. But the ability to speak confidently in front of a group and foster a strong professional network can make or break your career.
You don’t have to be perfect, but you can get better. Sign up for a class, watch TED talks, work with a coach, practice (take a video on your phone to observe yourself—I used to!), and consume all of the awesome free advice online. Most people are pleasantly surprised to learn that they are better than they think they are. What skill should you start investing time in to improve?
4. “My success will alienate my friends.”
If you get a promotion, buy an amazing apartment, or an unexpected bonus comes your way, some people worry that others will perceive them as “too cool for school” or arrogant. If you worry about making other people feel inadequate, don’t. When you live your truth and follow your dreams, you light the way for others. You can inspire them. Don’t waste a single second worrying about friends or relatives who don’t support you. Those who matter will cheer you on. And staying real and humble is entirely up to you.
5. “He/she doesn't truly love me.”
This is a core human fear: the worry that if people really knew the “real” you they wouldn’t accept you. I coached a woman last year who was overweight and afraid to lose weight, as she felt that being heavier could justify why she was single. Her weight acted as a shield.
Maybe you have a block in another form. Fear that we are somehow “unloveable” is what keeps a lot of us from true intimacy. We are worried that if someone gets too close, the “real” us will be revealed and consequently rejected. Recognizing this is a universal fear and cultivating self-love is one the most important things you can do.
6. “People will judge me if…”
...I get a divorce. ...Quit my job. ...Decide not to have children. ...Blog about post-feminism.
Here’s the good news (and the bad news). One third of people will like you, one third won’t, and one third won’t care about you. This applies to your work, your opinions, anything. My advice: Focus on the third that counts! No matter what you can’t please everyone. So stay real and please yourself. It’s your life. What people think about you is not your business. At the end of it all, you only have to answer to yourself. Others judge way less than you think too—behind the scenes, we all experience many of the same struggles.
7. “I can’t leave this relationship.”
Staying in an unsatisfying relationship for too long is the real worry here. You are wasting precious time! I can’t tell you how many people have told me they regret the length of time that they stayed in a wrong relationship (especially in their younger years which, looking back, are full of possibility).
I get it: Change, especially when we’re leaving what feels comfortable, generates our most exaggerated worries. But what could happen if you had the courage to do what your heart is secretly telling you? Will you still be alive? I bet the answer is yes. And after a while, freer, lighter, and happier.
8. “I’m not ready for the next step.”
Success, however you define it, brings responsibility. Becoming a parent, a manager, a business owner—whatever your next step is—will require hard work, self-belief, and strength. Our reservations can be a good thing as they prove to us that we care enough to want to feel prepared for the next step in our lives. But the truth is nothing can truly prepare you for many of life’s experiences until they actually arrive (just ask any parent or entrepreneur!).
I’ll let you in on a little secret. Almost no one feels ready for something new (recall your first kiss, moving out of your childhood home, starting your first job). But we still do it. We feel the discomfort and move forward anyway. And as a result, we become ready. New challenges reveal to us our capacity for growth.
The Bottom Line
In moments of real worry, remember a time in your life when something went horribly wrong. Maybe you were fired, dumped, or harshly criticized. What happened? You probably made it through OK in the end. So let your past experiences inform your current fears. You are stronger than you think. What you might have lost sleep over was probably was not nearly as bad as you expected when it actually happened.
Worry prevents nothing at all—it just robs today of its joy. Use your imagination wisely. Your self-talk and mindset is what deserves your attention. And don't downplay your dreams—they’re all you’ve got. When you next confront a worry, don’t wonder what’s the worst that can happen. Instead ask yourself: What is the best that could happen? And be prepared for it to come true.
Susie Moore is Greatist’s life coach columnist and a confidence coach in New York City. Sign up for her free weekly wellness tips on her website and check back every Tuesday for her latest No Regrets column!