• Eve Arnold

Don’t Worry Be Happy – Or Try This

It’s good advice but it’s hard to remember.

Photo by MI PHAM on Unsplash

“You probably wouldn’t worry about what people think of you if you could know how seldom they do.” ― Olin Miller

Starting work comes with a whole host of unexpected challenges. I call them challenges in an attempt to not scare you out of entering the office on day one and walking back out ten minutes later.

There is no way to sugar coat this, adjusting to the world of work, especially from university, is a challenge. It’s different in every conceivable way possible and it’s almost definitely nothing like you imagined. It will be mundane, people will irritate you and you likely mess up quite a few times before anything good happens.

One of the challenges you will inevitably encounter is being able to keep your worrying under control. When you start anything new there is always a degree of just ‘surface worry’. Like worrying you’re wearing the right thing, that you won’t say the wrong thing and that people will like you. That’s incredibly normal and I’m not sure there is anything I can write that will help with that, well except for the following.

Worrying that:

A) You are wearing the right thing — as long as it’s smart(ish) and sensible you should be fine. It depends what look you are going for but in general smart trousers and a nice shirt should do the trick.

B) You will say the wrong thing — avoid swearing multiple times in a sentence and don’t try to use big words that you don’t know the meaning of. Other than that, say your opinion, think through what you’re trying to say and say it with confidence.

C) People will like you — be yourself. As long as you are being honestly you, then if people don’t like you that’s a good thing. You can’t like everyone in the world, you can be nice to most people though.

The good news is that most of the things we worry about never happen. We waste time worrying about them to realise that actually we’re being totally over dramatic and the world is a lot more stable than we think. There was a small study done where by 2000 people were asked how frequently they worry. Turns out it’s a lot. 6.5 years in total across the group. Another article reported that us humans spend 5 whole years of our lives worrying.

1. Rationalise — Is This Really as Bad as You Think? Don’t Worry

So you’ve done something and you think it’s catastrophically bad. So bad that you might get fired or worse, your boss might think you’re an idiot.

Well, there are somethings we can do to understand if this is a real problem or if this is just you worrying for no reason. First thing is first, write out the problem. What is it? What have you done, or what has happened that is causing the worrying?

For example:

I didn’t communicate that we were going to be a week later than planned for the project to complete.

Make sure you analyse it properly and are completely sure that whatever you just wrote down is the reason you are worrying. If it is and you are happy with your answer, then the next step is to figure out our options. It’s a good moment to pause here and gain a bit of perspective. How many people in the world have projects that are delayed a week. A quick google and I bet you can find projects that have gone over budget by £30 million and are years off track. So the fact that you are going to deliver a week later than expected is not as big as a problem as you first might have suspected.


Now, let’s imagine your colleague came to you and said the sentence above. First thing to understand is what would you say to them. Would your initial reaction be “shit, this is bad” or would it be “don’t be silly, it’s totally fine”. If it’s the former “shit that’s bad”, we need to move swiftly onto the next step. Writing down the options in front of us, what can we do about our problem:

a) Do nothing, no-one will mind we’re a week late.

b) Talk to the sponsor and communicate how late you think is realistic and why you want to communicate this now.

c) Speak to ‘x’ they’ve ran loads of projects and they’ll know how to solve this.

Once we’ve got a few options we can rely on ourselves to pick a sensible one. We know, from looking at the list above, probably the most sensible is option c) going to speak to someone that has worked on projects before and get some advice. This option is about getting some deeper perspective on the issue at hand. Often it helps us to understand the context of our problem. If other people have experienced problems like ours it makes us feel a sense of relief that it can be solved.

2. Find a Fix — Can You Solve It?

“If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.” ― The Dalai Lama

Sometimes, are minds aren’t the most helpful in worrisome times. I often find myself thinking about the absolute worst case scenario before I’ve even thought about what the most likely outcome is. Try to not let your mind run away with itself and firmly anchor it to the most likely outcome. So for our problem above, it is incredibly unlikely that you will get fired for not communicating the project will be a week late. The most likely scenario, depending where you are in the project’s lifecycle, is that your superior will be thankful for the communication and help you think of ways to reduce the likelihood of it going off course.

By thinking logically about your concerns it can help us to think practically about a solution. So think through the problem, further than just what’s immediately next. We want to find out if it’s a problem but we also want to find what to do with our problem, if it is indeed a problem.


Let’s think further than ‘this is a problem’. Go deeper. If this is indeed a problem, what can we do about it? The most obvious thing is to think of a few solutions to present back that will alleviate the problem, or at the very least convince your boss you’re not a total an idiot. So for our problem here are a few options of things we can do to alleviate.

  1. Pay someone/ a few people over time to get more hours at the task at hand to make up the difference.

  2. Move the programme of work around a little so you can get to the most immediate milestone and work out what we can drop for the time being.

  3. Work out if there are any tasks that we can drop completely because they are not necessary if time is the major concern.

If you go back to your boss with the problem and a handful of potential solutions you are showing them that you think further than ‘this is a problem’. Inevitably, we are going to get into solution mode, if you can get there quickly and provide some ideas, that goes along way. It will also help you with your worrying. Defining practical solutions help calm your thoughts because you have an answer to the worst question in the world “what if?”

3. Get a Good Nights Sleep – Don’t Worry

Most of the world’s problems could be solved by a good night’s sleep. I kid you not, in my opinion the whole world would be better off if just before we spend a whole day worrying about something, we go to sleep. Often we worry more when we are tired, hungry or deprived in some other way. It’s hard to get worrying off of your mind if you are still conscious.

Making yourself go to sleep means you can’t physically be thinking about the thing at hand. You have time away from overthinking which means you wake up with a fresh perspective. Fresh perspective may mean that you wake up thinking:

“What on Earth was I worrying about that for?”

In which case you can move on to thinking about something else. If you find yourself still worrying after a good nights sleep, go back to the first step.

We all worry. It’s part of life but if you can reduce it just a tad you’ll do yourself a huge favour when starting work. You’ll have enough to think about without giving yourself a hard time and worrying.

“Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.” ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
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