We all have plenty enough to worry about at work and in life. It’d be a naïve approach for me to tell you “Don’t worry, be happy.” But I do think there’s something to be said for what you worry about, for how long.
I’ve found it powerful to put my worries from time to time through a screener question: “Will this really matter 10 years from now?” Occasionally, it actually might. Far more often than not, it won’t. Realizing this helps you put that worry into instant perspective.
In conducting extensive interviews among a wide range of employee types for Find the Fire, I found a theme to what many people worry about, only to realize later in life they shouldn’t have so much. What I share now are the top concerns shared in these interviews that turned out not to be so concerning after all.
I find each one to be true for myself now that I’m a decade later on in many things in my life. I share these for awareness–and to help you avoid frittering away precious thinking time that could be better spent.
1. What do others think of me?
This is the number one thing I regret being concerned about earlier in life. A fundamental practice of mine now is to try my best to compare only to who I was yesterday and whether or not I’m becoming a better version of myself.
Worrying about what others think of you can consume so much time in so many ways. This includes seeking approval of others, which is an empty victory at best and soul-crushing at worst. I can 100 percent guarantee that when it comes to what your boss, or that co-worker in marketing, or that neighbor you see in church all the time, thinks of you will not matter one iota later in life.
I don’t mean to be flippant and give you an excuse to run roughshod over everyone in your life because it just won’t matter later. This is about keeping things in proper perspective, no matter how important they seem to be in the moment. Time heals all wounds, wounds all heels, and generally causes memory loss in good ways (not just unhelpful ways).
2. Am I successful enough?
Suppose you ask this question of yourself and answer “Yes.” Now say you answer “No.” Either answer doesn’t matter because personal experience and the aforementioned research tells me your definition of success will be different 10 years from now anyway. So what’s the point of dwelling on your current success barometer?
I think a better thing to be worried about is “Am I succeeding at enough of the right things often enough?” Introduce some higher-order to the self-inquiry now, because later in life it becomes about higher-order reflections, not lower-order obsessions.
3. Am I making as much as I could be and living a big enough lifestyle?
This is related to the above but worthy of its own mention. Money and materialism are easy proxies for self-worth. It was admittedly pretty important to me as I grew up in corporate to live in bigger and bigger houses and have a more lavish lifestyle.
Until it wasn’t. Until it no longer felt anywhere near an accurate and worthy measuring stick. No matter what your starting point is, I feel confident in saying that 10 years later, living large will be less important and experiences and relationships will be far more important.
For supreme clarity, I’m not railing against the evils of materialism. If you can afford it, fantastic. I am railing at it, however, as an agitator in your life, as a source of angst and inadequacy. You are enough. You have enough.
4. What impact will this bad result have on me?
You are bigger than your mistake. This one in particular takes time to see, but mistakes have a way of looming larger implication-wise in the immediate term than they have a right to. My experience shows me that over time, the “bad” result really isn’t so bad in the grand scheme of things. I’ve witnessed far too many people afraid of a bad result hold back from fully applying themselves in a role. It’s the holding back they regret, not any one unfavorable result.
5. Should I have taken this risk?
Related to the above but worthy of its own consideration is angst over risks taken. The truth is you are far more likely to regret not having taken more risks in your life than regretting any single risk you took. In fact, a recent survey by career service website zety showed that 78 percent of 1,000 respondents said they wish they had taken more career risks.
So do your level best to focus on what matters, no matter what.