12/21/2012 12:13 am ET Updated Feb 19, 2013

The Two Words That Suck Our Power Away

Recently I was having a bit of a -- shall we say, tense -- moment over my finances.

It was a very real, somewhat terrifying, admittedly regressive moment.

You might recall I'm quite prone to this (for proof, check out my post, "What We Can All Learn From My Monthly Freak-Out").

This particular tension happens every year at about this time, as I close out the current year and plan for the one to come -- as I think through the wonderful initiatives I've worked on and wonder what projects will come next.

And then every year, without exception, my heartbeat quickens as I consider this next terrifying thought: What if none come?

Which is then followed by this string:

  • What if I can't afford my favorite Whole Foods salad every week?
  • What if I can't pay the rent?
  • What if I go broke?!

I know I'm not alone here. Many of us ask these kinds of anxiety-producing questions regularly. And they aren't just about money.

We play the "what if" game...

  • When we think about what could happen to our kids at school
  • When we think about coming down with a terrible illness
  • When we think about losing our keys, missing our flight, splitting with our partners

In the end, most of these things never happen. But that doesn't matter in the moment we ask them. In that moment, these "what if" questions feel not only possible, but probable. And these questions -- these two little "what if" words -- cause a whole lot of panic.

Yet we let these thoughts in all the time. We tell ourselves we must predict what might go wrong so that we can protect ourselves, so that we can play the role of responsible adult.


When we allow those "what if" questions into our minds, the truth is we're actually playing a whole different role.


These questions aren't simply asking whether or not these things will happen. They are asking whether or not these things will happen to us -- as though we don't have a say in the matter. As though we will need to just accept whatever fate deals us.

These two stinky little "what if" words completely suck our power away. It's happened to me every year.

Until this one.

This year, I decided to follow the best leaders I know, the leaders who don't let those pesky two words come anywhere near their thoughts.

I decided enough was enough.

I decided that these questions were pointless

I decided that they didn't help anything

I decided that I was no longer going to be a victim

I decided to get my power back.

I came up with two steps to do it. Perhaps you'd like to join me in exploring them. Ready?

Deirdre's Two Steps to Getting Her Power Back

Step #1: Change the Question

It turns out the real problem with those "what if "questions has nothing to do with the scary things we imagine might happen. The problem is with the questions themselves. So now I no longer ask questions like:

  • What if no clients come?


  • What if I go broke?

Instead, I ask questions like:

  • How can I engage with new people and projects this year?


  • How can I generate income in fun new ways this year?

Changing "what if" to "how can I" puts the power squarely back in my court.

Now, in some cases this can be equally scary. There's a reason being the victim can feel comfortable. If our fate isn't up to us, then we don't have the pressure of making things happen for us.

But in the end, believing that everything we do is out of our control is a pretty scary, insecure, downright uncomfortable place to be. Don't you think?

Step #2: Change the Answer

Sometimes the exact things we fear when we ask the "what if" question actually happens. And when it does, what do we do?

We deal with it.

Other times a bad things happens that we never even thought about. And when it does, what do we do?

We deal with it.

We are a resilient, smart, strong people. When things happen we take action. We respond and we find support and we figure things out. We never hide in the corner and stay there for the rest of our lives. That's not how we operate.

So when we can't quite escape those pesky "what if" questions, here's the solid answer, the one that, no matter what, is true every time.

"I'll deal with it."

We might not know how. We might not have it all figured out. But that's okay. We'll deal with it. Really, there's no other choice. And chances are, we'll come out even stronger on the other side. We'll emerge victorious. We'll gain more than we lose.

That's what I'm counting on as I give up those "what if" questions. It won't be easy. I won't be perfect. But, in the end, it'll be a whole lot better than the tornado of anxiety that comes every year at about this time.

After all, who needs that??


As you begin making plans for the upcoming year, as you feel anxiety about what might happen to you, commit to getting your power back.

Change the question. Ask yourself: "How can I do this for myself?"

Change the answer. Tell yourself: "I'll deal with it if it happens."

Then walk around with your head held high.

And know that you are nobody's victim.

Now go do good -- and do it well.

For more by Deirdre Maloney, click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.