A few days ago, I had a meeting. Not just any meeting; an important one. I was really worried about it. So worried that I had trouble concentrating or focusing on anything else. It even kept me up at night. I was that worried.
Then it came, the day of the meeting. And you now what? Everything went fine. No issues whatsoever. I was so relieved I can’t tell you. The sun came out, the sky was blue, the birds began to sing. Hallelujah.
My concerns were real, legitimate. But whether they justified all that anxiety or not, all that worrying, I really can’t say. All I know is it happened and now it’s over. Thank God.
But here’s the thing: these days, I think we all worry too much. Way too much. And trust me when I tell you, that is not a good thing. It’s a real problem.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are certainly things worth worrying about. Finding out your spouse has cancer. Losing your job and having no idea how you’re going to pay the bills. Finding out that you don’t have enough money socked away for retirement – after you’ve retired. Wondering if we’re really going the way of Greece.
Those are all worth losing sleep over.
But you know as well as I do, it doesn’t stop there. Not these days. Sure, we have all sorts of little sayings like “don’t sweat the small stuff” and “accept the things you can’t change” to help keep our worrying in check. To keep it from consuming us.
The only problem is the world has changed. We now live in a 24x7 culture. We’re “on” all the time. And we’re paying a heavy price for it; for all our stuff, our toys, our gadgets; for all the media, information, and communication overload. It’s getting more than a little out of control.
There’s simply too much to worry about:
Our connections. Today I woke up and our Internet was down. Like millions of people who work from home or telecommute, I depend on that connection.
Our gadgets. Have you ever left the house and forgotten your iPhone? I did. I actually felt panic, as if I’d gotten halfway to work and realized I’d forgotten to put my pants on.
Our personal brand. Everything you text, tweet, share, like, or post can doom your reputation. Once it’s on the Internet, it’s there forever. You can’t take it back. And if you lose a few Twitter followers, that’s the end of the world.
Our germs. I don’t know how it all got started, but we’ve become a nation of antiseptic germophobes. Germs are good for you. They help you build immunities so you don’t get sick.
Our words. Maybe the worst epidemic is political correctness. Now we’ve got to watch everything we say and do for fear it’ll make someone feel uncomfortable or, God forbid, not included.
Our hair, colon, libido, diet, and everything else attached to or going in or out of our bodies. Funny how we’re in worse shape than ever before, though.
Our fantasy football picks, March Madness, Dancing With the Stars, online gaming: don’t even get me started on all the nutty stuff people are into these days.
So what’s really wrong with all this worrying? Three things:
1. It’s addictive behavior. We’re all becoming compulsive, neurotic, constantly reactive to outside stimulus, permanently distracted, and out of touch with ourselves.
2. It takes all the fun out of life. It’s not good for your health, your relationships, your career, or your business, for that matter.
3. If you spend all your time and precious neurons worrying about all sorts of minutiae, you have no brain cycles left for all the important things you should be concerned with.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you should waltz through life in a permanent state of Zen-like bliss, that you should subscribe to the “Don’t worry, be happy” mentality, or any of that nonsense. That’s even worse.
What I am saying is that all this worrying isn’t just nutty. It’s self-destructive. And if you happen to be in a position of power or authority – an executive, a business or political leader – there’s a lot more at stake than just your own health and the sanity of those around you.
You see, I once knew an executive who had a pretty good career. But when he was made the CEO of a large public company, I guess it went to his head. One day, he had an epiphany. He just had to acquire this one company to implement some grandiose new strategy.
His vision consumed him. It was all he thought about. And the more he thought about it, the more imperative it became. I remember him telling me how worried he was that he might be outbid for that company he had to acquire. How it kept him up at night.
But in the end, his concern was unjustified. His fears were irrational. There were no other bidders. And the merger turned out to be a disaster that nearly took down both companies. That’s because neither of the two things that are critical to a successful merger – business synergies and cultural fit – existed.
It’s a cautionary tale, but I see it happen all the time. It happens when people become a little too consumed with things. When they lose perspective. It messes with their heads, skews their judgment and decision-making, ruins their effectiveness.
Here’s the thing. We’re all becoming more and more like that CEO every day. Don’t be like him. Quit worrying about all your stuff, all the things that can go wrong, whatever it is that consumes and distracts you.
No, I don’t expect you to just toss all your toys and become a Buddhist monk. But once in a while, take time to disconnect. Spend some time alone with yourself. Get out in the country with your spouse and your kids. Play in the dirt. Have some real fun. And leave your gadgets at home.
Try it. You’ll be amazed at how happy it makes you. How much less there really is to worry about. No kidding.
Steve Tobak is a Silicon Valley-based strategy consultant and former senior executive of the technology industry.