For me, becoming my own boss (first as a freelancer and later as a founder) was a wake-up call for how much my own psyche played a role in the success of my own company. When I was plagued with worry or doubt, even if it was personal, I knew I didn't want to let my own fears get in the way of running a great company. So I set out to learn more about how worry, psychology, and decision-making affect us, and what we can do to work with--or overcome--these regular human emotions.
For many entrepreneurs and leaders, worry can be a trap that gets you into a lot of trouble. Too much worry, and you risk not being able to take action quickly, or move decisively. Too little worry, and you can operate in a bubble that isn't realistic, and suffer the consequences later.
As an entrepreneur, you face a unique challenge of needing to navigate both the outer world as well as your inner world: you are only as good as your mental game. As the boss or founder, you're not making the decisions in a vacuum, you're living them out loud as your life's work.
So when Amber Rae, a creative artist and author, went on a mission to find clues and hints about why her best work was often hidden underneath a pile of fear and worry, I dove into the book to learn what tools she had to share around how to move with worry and fear to create your best work.
Worry and fear: how do these emotions play out in our work?
Worry can express itself in many ways, she writes in her recent book, Choose Wonder Over Worry.
The voices of worry sound like this:
"Who are you to do this?"
"Hasn't this already been done?"
"Will anyone care?"
"What if people judge you?"
"What if you get bored?"
"They're better than you."
"Your story doesn't matter."
These inner critics are voices that question your talent, your abilities, and your self worth.
Worry can be toxic. "Toxic worry is the relentless, looping thoughts that prevent you from taking action or moving forward," she writes. It's when we're locked in worry about the past or anxiety about the future.
"It's a mechanism in our brains that designed to keep us from doing anything too risky or uncomfortable," she shares.
But on the other side of worry is another voice that we have access to--one that tells us what we want, what we crave, and who we hope to be. This voice is "one that wants us to do well, be seen, and pursue that which we most desire."
Amber calls this voice Wonder.
"Wonder knows what we're capable of, and is committed to nudging us closer and closer to who we were before the world told us who to be."
When you find yourself trapped in the pit of worry, obsessing over what could go wrong, or stuck in paralysis, here's her roadmap for finding your way out--ask yourself these three questions:
1. Is this a real possibility?
If you're worried about something that might go wrong, there's a chance that it's a real possibility. If it truly is--and it's not made up as a protection device by your mind--then worry becomes a useful tool and empowers us to act.
If it's not a real possibility, however, you can begin to journal it out, or shake it off, the fear that comes up when something isn't very likely to happen.
Next, ask yourself:
2. Is there any productive action I can take right now?
If you do identify something that's challenging, frustrating, or worth worry, ask yourself to move into a space of action, rather than rumination. What can you do to move past it?
Sometimes, when I'm under deadline or stressed because I've let a client relationship go too long, I can find myself worried late at night about what they're thinking, or how behind I am. Using this question--"Is there anything I can do right now?"--can help me move out of paralysis and into action. I can draft an email to send them about the delays; I can cancel unnecessary meetings on the calendar; I can commit to making better time schedules in the future. Each of these actions appeases the worry.
3. What's my next step?
Regardless of whether or not the worry is sound, you can always rely on this third question to help get you out of a funk. If you're in the middle of a huge project, procrastinating on starting, or struggling with work overwhelm, ask yourself:
What's my next step?
This simple question can be game-changing as it opens up your mind to consider the path forward, rather than staying stuck where you are.
Throughout the book, Amber has exercises designed to help you journal your way out of fear and back into what she calls the path of Wonder. Remember to stay curious, to be compassionate with yourself, and allow yourself to choose courage, she shares in the book. These "Three C's" (courage, compassion, and curiosity) will help you along any of the worry paths as your move towards the best expression of your creative self.
For me, whenever I get overwhelmed with the magnitude of what I'm trying to do, or stuck in paralysis around all the things that can go wrong, I find myself exhaling and asking this question over and over again:
"What's my next step?"
This question can unlock the tiniest movement, create clarity, and get me to move from a place of worry into possibility.