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Dealing with the What If’s

A common question in my office starts with What if?  What if I fail, what if I don’t get the job, what if I don’t get into school?  What if I don’t like the career once I get out of school?  What if’s are a part of life, and for those of us who struggle with anxiety they are a very real part of life.  We can what if ourselves to death, worrying about life, career, family, friends, etc.

The What if the scenario is a trapping of the Fear Monger. It is designed to ‘trick’ us into thinking we are begin vigilant, safety conscious and deliberate in our life path.  When in reality, what if’s play there in an on-going tape of trappedness and non-movement.  If we are always in the what if mode we will never decide on a career, we won’t call anyone to set up networking meeting or do an informational interview; we won’t research grad schools or look at new employers.  We will be trapped in the what if scenario.  Because what if’s are irrational, rationality won’t work–they are never-ending.

For example, let’s say you are trying to decide between 2 careers and you need to do some research to gather more information.  Your what if’s might go like this.
What if I call that guy to do an informational interview and he thinks I am an idiot?
What if he says no?
What if I hate the job as I am observing it?
What if I make a mistake?
What if I don’t get into grad school?
What if I do and I flunk out?
What if I finish with straight A’s and hate my new career?
What if I regret ever going to grad school?

ON and ON and ON these messages play.  Keeping us trapped in non-decision vs. taking one baby step in a direction that MIGHT be incorrect.  As with any fear monger messages I have found it best when we can be conscious of them, just aware that they are playing there in a what if game.  SOMETIMES it helps to engage them with rational arguments, but usually, for every rational argument, there are 5 more what if’s too follow.

Recently I had a stressful health scare with a family member, we were ‘on edge’ for a few days not knowing what would happen next and the what if’s were flying through my head.  I was losing sleep and living in a state of stress and panic.  I caught myself in the what if spiral and said out loud “STOP” what’s the worse that can happen–as I laid out the worst case scenario I thought ok, if that happens, I can handle it I can move forward, I can ask for help, I can make new decisions and take one step at a time.  We will handle it no matter what, even if we handle it poorly at first.  When I was able to see that the worst case was manageable, not ideal but there was an action that we could take,  it took away the power of all the other what ifs.  Later, when I would catch them playing there I would say merely say to myself  “stop this–I got it” and place my hands over my heart in a way to acknowledge both my fear and my strength.  The what ifs do the most damage when they are unconscious when we don’t recognize them because before we know it we can be in a full-blown panic.  So pay attention, what are your what ifs telling you, what are they keeping you from, what are they holding you back from doing.

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