"Oh no, too many people showed up, and we ran out of parking spaces."
"Groan, we already had three events this weekend, and now we have a fourth. I don't see how we're going to be able to fit it all in."
Such is the stuff of modern stress. Events don't work out like you planned, or you have too many places to be. It's all fodder for our angst.
Yet it strikes me that many of the things we worry about are actually what I call "happy problems."
A few years back, my kids and I were going over our Saturday schedule. As we went down the list - two birthday parties, a soccer game, the school family fun day - it became obvious that something was going to have to be cut.
However, as we fretted and dithered over whether we were going to miss the bouncy house party or seeing the principal take a turn in the dunk tank, it suddenly dawned on me: Having to choose between a bunch of good stuff is a sign that you have a really great life.
It totally changed our perspective. Here we are, having to pick which fun stuff we want to do most, and we're stressed about it?
From that moment forward, every time we faced a similar situation, we would always say to ourselves (well OK, I would say it and the kids would repeat it, sometimes without rolling their eyes), "This is a happy problem. How fabulous is it that we're faced with an overabundance of excellent options?"
It's funny how we often let ourselves get stressed over things that we perceive as problems, when in reality a lot of the stuff we worry about is only happening because things are going great.
I recently attended an event where twice as many people showed up as the organizers had planned for. This prompted the people in charge to run around looking worried as they scrambled to find enough chairs and food for the unexpected turnout. They were eventually able to make things work, but the process was fraught with tension. Their anxiety over having to make arrangements for the extra people made it seem like the event had gone badly instead of great.
Yes, they did need to make some quick arrangements. But what would have happened if instead of scurrying around like stressed-out chickens with terse looks on their faces, they had called everyone together and said, "Wow, this turned out way better than we ever dreamed. I have great news: We need more food and chairs. Yippee! Give us a bit, and we'll make it happen. Meanwhile join us in a big cheer because we have twice as many people as we planned for."
Just because things aren't turning out the way you planned doesn't mean that they're turning out badly.
Yet when add our own anxiety to a situation that is simply different than what we expected, or has more elements than we're comfortable with, we create a scenario in which something good feels like something bad. And unfortunately, our attitude often determines how other people perceive the situation as well.
So next time you find yourself worried over too much to do or an unexpected change, ask yourself, "Is this a happy problem?"
Sure, things might not be going the way you planned. But maybe they're actually going better.
Lisa Earle McLeod is an author, syndicated columnist and inspirational thought-leader. A popular keynote speaker, Lisa is principal of McLeod & More, Inc., a training and consulting firm specializing in sales, leadership and conflict management. Her newest book is The Triangle of Truth: The Surprisingly Simple Secret to Resolving Conflicts Large and Small (Jan 2010 from Penguin Putnam). More info - www.LisaEarleMcLeod.com