Don’t Worry About the Worry Dolls

My 6-year-old daughter, Ava, was recently given something called a worry doll. A worry doll is a traditional Guatemalan figurine, usually only a few inches tall, made from wood and traditional woven fabric. The idea behind it is this: if you’re worried about something, or perhaps having trouble sleeping, you tell your worries to the doll and it will take over worrying for you.

Ava’s worry doll is a small, dark haired, olive skinned female wearing a vibrant purple yarn dress. Ava was quite taken with it at first, carrying it in her pocket all day and periodically taking it out to admire. But over the course of the next few days, I noticed a change in how she paid attention to her doll: she began fussing over its dress, fretting that its eyebrows seemed to be wearing off, getting upset when she misplaced it or when her little brother so much as laid a finger on it.

In short, Ava’s worry doll had become yet another source of worry. What a curious, but instructive, dilemma.

As a purpose-driven professional, perhaps you can relate to Ava’s predicament; you’ve got plenty to worry about! Customer service, inventory, stakeholders and financials, new hires–these and other matters can vie for space in our heads, sometimes even keeping us up at night. And in business, we create our own kinds of worry dolls. Whether it’s technological innovations like autoresponders, social media, account software or manufacturing upgrades, or people such as assistants, program managers, or developers, we often set up someone or something to help alleviate our worries–and then set right to worrying about them.

The interesting thing about worry dolls and their equivalents is how they highlight our ways of dealing with worry in the first place. The aim shouldn’t be to give yourself added variables to fret about; it should be that you find a way to take a break and recharge, so that you can deal with your concerns more effectively. Worry has different sources, sometimes real and sometimes imaginary, but the trick is to manage worry in a healthy, well prioritized fashion.

Technological upgrades, support staff, social media managers, and similar ‘worry doll’ equivalents–these are supposed to help us worry less, mainly by transferring some of our worries in ways that let us strategically decide where to focus our energies. Sure, we need to check in with them now and then to make sure things are going according to plan–but if you spend too much time sweating the minutiae, you’re just compounding your problem. If you’ve got your ‘worry doll’ equivalents well positioned, then you’re freer to concern yourself with the higher purpose of your organization, which is the driving force behind all the other stuff anyway. Devote your concerns toward making sure your efforts align with your mission. And don’t neglect your own well being! If you’re not getting enough rest to be effective, the entire mission will sooner or later be compromised.

What is the meaning of this?

When your organization’s higher purpose is clear and well attended to, the other things you’re tempted to fret about are often revealed as secondary. Software selections, color palettes, employee-related decisions, and other incidentals, all come into clearer view when the lighthouse of your mission stays in sight. If you gather worry dolls to help ease your mind, choose them wisely and position them well. Ensure that everything is in line with your greater purpose. And don’t forget to get some sleep.