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The Coaching Corner with Michael Riegel: Don't Worry, Be Happy

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In 1988, Bobby McFerrin won the Grammy for the song of the year with a song by the same title.  I never really bought into the idea.  I’m not particularly anxious and I don’t catastrophize.  The message seemed then, as it does now, overly simplistic, and dismissive of reality.  Ignoring what is happening personally and professionally is to become the ostrich that sticks its head in the sand.  You may read this and start to count on your fingers all the things that make you worry.  Aging parents, health concerns, young children, long work hours, job security, finances, a hyper-critical supervisor. 
I’m also old enough to remember older colleagues who would gleefully say “if it weren’t work, they would call your job play”.  Equally unhelpful.  The underlying message was that suffering was to be expected.  Suffering should not be equated with working through challenges and coming out the other end of the process more capable, more accomplished, or more confident.  Here are a few approaches to consider in making it through the process. 

Acknowledge Reality 
This is the first step for any of my coaching clients.  This is about planting a flag and articulating the truth.  Your objective truth, not what someone else would like you believe or the false stories you tell yourself.  Establishing your starting point will allow you to chart a course forward, even if that brings discomfort, anxiety, or uncertainty.   

Experience Discomfort 
As a parent, I never wanted my kids to feel pain.  That just wasn’t possible.  I’m sure my parents felt the same way when I was growing up.  Accept that there will be uncomfortable situations and that, through experience, you become stronger.  You will likely find a similar dynamic at work.  If you supervise others, provide an opportunity for them to voice their fears and encourage them to stay the course.  Think of yourself as the safety net, not the oil to fix their squeaky wheel. 

Keep Learning 
We are learning beings.  We want to know more, acquire additional skills, and be more adept.  Learning requires a feedback mechanism that will remind you of what you have accomplished and how you got through a comparable situation.  Think about being asked to give a speech.  Public speaking is often cited as the number one fear, even more than death.  If you were able to deliver the speech, you can now recognize the physical reactions.  Dry mouth, sweaty palms, heart racing.  And, how you were able to overcome all of them.  Use that learning to guide your future approaches and attitudes. 
I think Dolly Parton was more accurate.  She said, “if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.”  The rain is the willingness to sit with your reality, work through the barriers, and learn from the successes and failures.  Of course, I also believe that failures are our greatest learning opportunities.  You can reach me at  

Michael Riegel 


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