W O R R Y. This is such a bad word, it should only be four letters.
At one time, worry helped save our lives. It kept us on high alert from the dangers around every corner. That was thousands of years ago. Today, things are different.
Instead of helping us, worry can kill us. When worry takes over every thought, it consumes us and becomes stress. Study after study shows the negative effects stress can have on us. It includes: heart problems, poor sleep, headaches, digestion issues, high blood pressure, back pain and more.
The Dalai Lama said, “If a problem is fixable, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying.” This seems so simple, yet we all still struggle.
Being a CEO of a software startup was one of the most stressful jobs I’ve ever had. The stress came from constant worry. Worry about my customers, my employees and my investors. With any company, there always seems to be a problem, some new thing to worry about.
One experience stands out in particular. Success or failure would impact everyone. The company was growing, but it was clear we needed to sell. At least it was clear to our executive team. Our investors didn’t agree.
Even so, I got the green light to see if I could find a buyer. Finding a buyer is like courting a girl. You want to run up and ask her out for dinner, but you can’t. You have to spend some time with her. You have to get to know her. And you have to make her want to go out before you ask. To make matters worse, instead of trying to get one date, I was doing this with 10 or 15 girls, I mean companies.
An important part of courtship is not showing how much you like the other person. In dating, the rule says you should wait three days before you call the other person after going out. I have no idea who wrote this rule. I followed it when I was dating and it seemed to work out, but that’s another story.
So I wait. I wait for the call from the companies I am trying to date. Do they like me? Will they call? When will they call? What will they say? Should I call them? What do you think? Did they call while I was thinking about them calling? Crap!
Most of them did not call. I didn’t get any first dates. I did come close though. There was one company that was a perfect fit. They were trying to head into our space and needed our technology and customers.
Things were moving along well. We were talking about if our board of directors would sell. In these situations you always have to say no, even though the answer is yes, at a price.
This was it. I knew if we didn’t sell to this company, I was out of options.
I did everything in my power to get to a deal. Good was never good enough. I poured everything I had into thinking about the strategy and what I would do next. Whatever I had left, I had to use to run the company.
Then I got the news. It was the Friday after Thanksgiving. The company I’d been courting got acquired by a huge firm. That’s it. It was over.
Some people told me, the deal could still happen. But I knew that at best the deal was on hold, at worst, it was over. And it was.
I learned a lot from this experience.
First, you have to watch out for stress. Worry too much and it turns toxic. Lucky for me, I have a built in stress detector and it never fails. If my stress levels get too high, my eye twitches. It’s like clockwork.
If my eye starts twitching I know I have a problem. It reminds me to take a step back and figure out what is causing my stress. Once I nail it down, I need to deal with it.
How you deal with worry is another big lesson.
A lot of times I found myself wanting to make a decision right away. I would race to find an answer before I needed to make a call. This was silly.
You don’t need to worry about a decision until you have all the information. Sure, there are times you won’t get every piece of data you need, but don’t rush if you don’t need to. It creates unnecessary worry.
With the deal I was working on, I often forgot that I couldn’t control the outcome. When I found myself getting consumed about the result, I had to tell myself to focus on what I could do. That is all any of us can do. Worrying about something doesn’t make it happen. In fact, it can work against you.
The other way I learned to deal with the worry, was to accept the worst possible outcome. In my case, it was that I couldn’t find a buyer and it would end with me looking for a new job. That seemed scary at first, but then I got comfortable with the idea. Once I did, the worry slid away.
With the worry gone, I could focus on making the worst, better. When you’re consumed with worry, it’s difficult to focus on the things you can control. I found that the sooner I did this exercise, the sooner I could get back to positive work.
When all else fails, occupy yourself. I found plenty of times, I had to leave the office. Being surrounded by employees would get my mind racing. For me, I would go hit golf balls. I could put all my energy and focus into smashing a little white ball. Afterwards, I always felt better and could refocus on the things I could control.
You could write a book on worry and a lot of people have. My favorite is Dale Carnegie’s, How To Stop Worrying and Start Living. It is an easy read and the principles are timeless.
This post is part of a series of letters to my kids. My goal is to reflect on and capture as many life lessons as possible. Here is the current list I am working from.