Engineers by nature have to deal with uncertainty. If there is a species that always can come up with a worst case scenario, it would be the engineer. That is what we do for a living. Build something, and then figure out what can break it. Next, determine a contingency plan. All good engineers do this. We can’t help it. Normally this is a really good thing, unless the anxiety it provokes prevents you from being able to do your job successfully. Just remember, there are a lot of people out there who don’t ever think about what can go wrong. Sometimes those people are meandering through life without a plan, sometimes they are going through foreclosure on a house or a car they didn’t realize they can’t afford, and worst case they are in jail wondering what the heck happened. If you are anxious about the negative possibilities you are much less likely to have them happen to you.
What do you do if your anxiety over the worst case scenario paralyzes you? This is a hard thing to overcome, but in order to really be successful in business there are times when you have to just go with your gut feeling. You need to make sure that you don’t over analyze everything. If you do, you can spend more hours worrying about what can go wrong and rejiggering your plan than it would take to actually get the job done! Sometimes it is necessary to just give yourself an arbitrary deadline. After so many hours (or days) you just need to choose a direction or make a decision. Usually providing a self-imposed end date will be enough to motivate you to do what is needed to figure things out, without spiraling down into fearful scenarios and worry. Eventually you will learn that making a decision – any decision – is better than wallowing in indecision for an extended period of time. Worst case you can always change direction if things aren’t working out quite as planned. Getting that experience, figuring out what isn’t working can be quite invaluable. Yes, it takes extra time, but so does not making a decision in the first place.
Some of you might be thinking – well – what if my worst fears come true? So what? As long as you aren’t endangering life how bad can it be? Seriously… You’ll just need to pick yourself up and dust yourself off and try again. I’ve started companies that didn’t quite get off the ground like I had hoped. I’ve gone without a salary for a year. I’ve taken on positions that I was completely unsuited for and that caused great personal stress. I’ve missed critical deadlines. What happened? Well, I am still here and I am a whole lot smarter than I was when I started in my career. Everything that I didn’t succeed at the first time was a terrific learning experience for me. In retrospect surviving failure and really crummy times has reduced my anxiety level.
If this is the first time that you are faced with this type of situation it might feel overwhelming. The first time you are afraid that you will really mess something up and fail is a stressful situation. Do your best to realize that it *will* get better. The maturity that comes with hardship is key to your personal and professional growth. No one succeeds at everything they try. If you expect to, you are just setting yourself up for a really rough experience psychologically.