How Worrying Could be Good for Your Career

Illustration of worried man with head in hands

Ever been told not to worry? No matter who’s giving it, that’s just bad advice, says Eric Johnson, MBA’01, executive career coach and executive director of the IU Kelley School of Business Graduate Career Services. And with the uncertain environment that we’re all in, you might find yourself stressing even more about your career.

But worrying—in moderation—is a good thing. It’s a message from the gut, and it’s there for a reason. If you’re concerned about something, particularly at work, explore what is causing that feeling so you can act to resolve it. Johnson suggests addressing these three questions:

What, specifically, are you worried about? Most people focus on vague categories like, “I’m concerned that I’m failing at my job.” This is a good starting point, but Johnson suggests digging deeper to look for an exact reason, like, “I’m so far behind on email that I can’t think about anything else.” When you get to this deeper level of awareness, you have something tangible to focus on.

How important is this issue to you? Reflecting on this question helps you take the time to determine how much an issue really matters to you before you invest in it emotionally. Assigning the situation a value on the “severity scale” keeps the problem in perspective and helps better prioritize your efforts to fix it.

What’s the worst that can happen? Or the best? How likely are each of these to occur? Asking these questions, in this order, gives additional perspective. It’s normal to either obsess about the worst-case scenario or assign too much hope to the best case—and according to Johnson, most people don’t consider both possibilities. By exploring both ends of the spectrum, you might realize that your fears are larger than they need to be. When these scenarios are evaluated, you can identify places to show more initiative and generate positive momentum.

Don’t worry about worrying—just do it more deliberately, says Johnson. This shift in approach will help you identify problems and take steps to resolve them.

This story appeared in the Summer/Fall 2020 issue of the IU Alumni Magazine, a magazine for members of the IU Alumni Association. View current and past issues of the IUAM.

Written By
Lacy Nowling Whitaker
Lacy, a Bloomington native, earned two degrees from IU Bloomington (BA'08, MA'14) and is the Director of Content with the IU Alumni Association.