Don't Worry About Success (Be Responsible Toward It)

Have you ever had the experience of being unable to “let go” of your worries about work? It seems to be a pretty common thing.

I often work with clients who say that they are never really not working. Even when they are off the clock--and sometimes, even while they sleep--their minds are still churning.

Anxiety is about avoiding danger, so when there is a chronic anxiety, there is usually some sense that something bad will happen. In the back of your mind, you’re thinking, “I’m going to fail to meet my goals, and my career will run off track.”

In situations like this, it can be helpful to reframe your job in terms of responsibility. In particular, what are you responsible for, and what are you responsible toward?

What’s the difference? We can be responsible for outcomes that we can control. But we can only be responsible toward outcomes that we cannot control. You can be responsible for picking up your trash, but you can only be responsible toward a clean environment.

Here’s a work-related example:

Let’s say you are a manager of a sales team. Each month, your team has to meet a revenue goal.

You are responsible for:

  • meeting with each team member on a weekly basis
  • signing on off on individual team members’ goals, tactics, and strategies
  • providing support to team members

You are responsible toward:

  • meeting sales goals
  • creating and maintaining a positive culture

See the difference?

Now, what people often say is: “That’s all well and good, but I will be held responsible for the outcomes of my work."

There is some truth to that. Unfortunately, we live in a world where people are judged by outcomes, rather than decisions (just ask any NFL coach who’s had to face reporters after making a bad gametime decision).

However, there are some things you can do:

  • clarify your responsibiities with the people to whom you are accountable. Be honest with your clients, bosses, or employees, about what they can expect from you
  • clarify with yourself what exactly you can be expected to do
  • take the long view. Have some faith that if you continually exercise responsiblity toward our situation, you will affect positive outcomes