Work offers plenty of legitimate concerns: deadlines, goals, customer satisfaction, new opportunities, missed opportunities—the list is endless and sometimes haunting. It’s easy to lie awake at night reviewing the day with worry and regret, wishing we hadn’t said this or done that or even imagining possible offenses or errors that didn’t even happen.
Early in my career, I would let a simple mistake ruin the rest of my day (or week). I didn’t realize that while I was stressing about an error, other people had moved on or were focusing on their own. For example, when I gave my client an analysis with incorrect data; though I quickly caught it and provided an update, I obsessed about my credibility for months. I wasted so much time that could have been spent connecting with that client in a meaningful way, providing more value to her business.
After reflecting and talking to others, I developed this list of five worthless work worries. These are the ultimate time wasters, and if you can drop them today, you’ll be better, wiser, and more productive.
1. Opinions of You
I’m a huge proponent of developing relationships at work and being your best, most likable self. People who are liked at work build a strong network, which often advances their careers. But let’s face it, not everyone is going to like you, and of your many job duties, getting people to like you isn’t one of them. It’s been years, but I’m pretty sure my former coworker, David, never warmed up to me. We worked on a project together for months, and he was uninviting and sarcastic almost all of that time.
There are lots of ways to handle the Davids of this world, but I’ll leave you with the easiest: quality work. Excellent work is indisputable, and while everyone won’t appreciate your style, no one can argue with value when you bring it. Forget their opinion of you and simply be friendly, keep cool, and do your best work.
Quality is important and like many perfectionists, I cringe thinking about when I’ve messed up. While it’s easy to keep replaying mistakes in your mind, do so only long enough to learn how to change and avoid that mistake in the future. After that, forgive yourself and move on—wiser and stronger.
3. The Success of Others
One year into my career, I watched a group of colleagues begin receiving promotions—something I wanted too. I worried incessantly about what I was doing wrong. While I like the idea of using other people’s success as a general model for aspirations, be careful. Comparisons are a trap. You don’t know what choices or the sacrifices others have made to get where they are. If you admire someone’s success, turn it into a healthy learning opportunity. Focus your energy on goals that lead you to better and even more fitting jobs. Cheer on the success of others, while paving your own path.
4. Your Background or Differences
When I started my first job, I was constantly on edge about being the only black woman on my team. I worried about how much of my culture I could share in the office. While I was open to learning about other people, I didn’t reciprocate by introducing the unique parts of myself to my colleagues. It took me too long to get comfortable. I regret those years and often wonder what I’ve missed out on by not bringing all of me to work sooner. Opening up and showing who you are makes everyone around you better.
5. Gripes about Management
The first day on his new job my husband met a group of coworkers that raved about the pay, benefits, and flexibility of the work. But before long, he noticed that the same people who seemed so happy always complained. They griped about petty things, like which snacks were offered in the break room, and more organizationally dangerous things, like how management ran the operation. My husband realized no matter the job, there is always room for a complaint, even the most minor ones. He opted to keep the little frustrations to himself.
As for the bigger concerns, he once told me, “Seems like some employees always think they have the best managing skills, but decide not to lead.” That statement made an impression on me. Whenever I question someone’s ability, I remember what he said and ask myself if I’m willing to help make things better. If the answer is “no,” I drop it. If the answer is “yes,” I take the proper steps to share my insights and suggestions.
I’m proud of my current job position and opportunities, but sometimes I wonder where might my career be today if I could go back and use the time I spent on meaningless worries and direct that energy to positive changes. And yet, even time spent concerned about worries is itself a worthless worry. A better plan is to remind ourselves each morning to refuse to waste another second on them.
Instead, we should funnel the energy we spend on work worries into actions and ideas that propel our careers and the organizations we represent forward to stronger, more positive positions.
Natasha Miller Williams is Vice President of Diversity and Inclusion for Nielsen. Connect with her on LinkedIn at: https://www.linkedin.com/in/natashamillerwilliams.