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What Me Worry?

February 21, 2013
Our industry is hard and fraught with peril. Every year, we take big, scary risks when we place early buys. Every year, we bet our livelihoods on the state of the economy and the housing market. We bet huge sums on advertising hoping some part of our advertising budget will work.  It is no wonder then that it is the rare specialty outdoor retailer who doesn’t worry.

Several months ago, the worry became so bad that I was unable to sleep and I was having trouble doing my job. During this time,  a friend noticed my distress and recommended a self-help book to me. By nature, I am not a “self-help” book type of person; so, I accepted the book with no intention of reading it. However, the friend kept asking me if I had read it and had it helped. He backed me into a corner where I had no other option than to start reading the book.

It was the best thing that has happened to me in a long time and I want to recommend the same book to you: “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” by Dale Carnegie. For those of you without enough time to read the entire book (even during those sleepless nights), let me share two concepts that seemed to work for me. (Please note: comments in Italics are direct quotes from the book)

The first concept I want to share is called living in day-tight compartments. One of Carnegie’s colleagues, Sir William Osler, while on an ocean voyage, became friendly with the captain. He was given a tour of the bridge during the voyage. He was amazed that by pushing a button, the captain was able to cut off one compartment in the ship from another, making each compartment watertight. A few day later, Osler told an audience of Yale students that each one of you is a much more marvelous organization than the great liner. He urged them to live with “day-tight compartments” as the most certain way to ensure safety on the voyage of life. Touch a button and hear the iron doors shutting out the Past - - the dead yesterdays. Touch another and shut off the Future - - the unborn tomorrows. Then you are safe - - safe for today!

How many times are we awakened by the thought, “Oh, if only I had done such and so!” Or, “What should I do if such and such happens.” When this happens, we have to remember three things: One, We can’t change the past. Two, the future only exists in our mind. It doesn’t exist in reality at all. Three, the only thing we can control is today. Shut close, then, the great fore and aft bulkheads, and prepare to cultivate the habit of life of “day-tight” compartments. This is not to say we shouldn’t prepare for tomorrow. The best possible way to prepare for tomorrow is to concentrate with all your intelligence, all your enthusiasm on doing today’s work superbly today.

Since reading this, I have been able to cope with the worst sleepless nights. I tell myself, “It is two in the morning. There is nothing I can do right now right now to change what is going to happen two days from now. Instead, I have to concentrate on the job at hand which is to get some sleep. Sleep will recharge my body so that two days from now, I will be able to face the situation in a rational manner.” The comfort of knowing I am doing the best I can, helps me get back to sleep.

The second concept is how to analyze worry. Most worry is caused when you don’t have enough information to make an intelligent decision. You worry about whether the decision you make will be the right one. Carnegie suggests four rules to help:

Rule 1: Get the facts. Half the worry in the world is caused by people trying to make decisions before they have sufficient knowledge on which to base a decision.
Rule 2: After carefully weighing the facts, come to a decision.
Rule 3: Once a decision is carefully reached, act!
Rule 4: When you are tempted to worry about a problem, write out and answer the following questions:

    Question 1: What is the problem?
    Question 2: What is the cause of the problem?
    Question 3: What are the possible solutions?
    Question 4:What is the best solution.

When you start putting that solution in place, you won't have time to worry about the problem.

This was the most effective technique I learned from the book. I realized I was worrying about things because I didn’t have faith in myself to be able to control them. It was as if I had given my self-confidence away. So, instead of worrying myself to death about a problem, I analyzed what the problem was and gathered as much data as I could to help me figure out how to face it. Once I decided how to face it, I threw myself into solving the problem or at least mitigating it. My faith in myself and my self confidence returned.

I know these concepts seem very simplistic. This, in fact, is why I don’t read self-help books. But as I read this book, I was reminded by something I learned in college engineering classes: The simplest solution is always the best solution. Have I stopped worrying completely? No way. But at least I've learned how to cope with the worry and maybe I have even started living. If you have been losing sleep, lost your appetite, snapped at your mate, or just stopped living, I urge you to read this book. It opened my eyes; I think it will yours too.

Yours in confused (but less stressful) retailing, Bruce