Reimagining Wasted Emotions

I come from a long line of practical women. Both my grandmothers were raised on farms in the country where there was little time for frivolity. While loving, my grandmothers’ approaches were no-nonsense and geared toward getting the job done, no matter what that entailed. This pragmatism was passed down to my aunts and mother and, ultimately, to my sister and me.


A clear way this attitude manifests itself is when my mother says, “Worry and regret are wasted emotions.” This sentence, from her, equates to “Stop wasting your time stressing about something that has already happened; learn from it!” and “Don’t spend all your time worrying; do something!” Or, if the situation is completely out of our control, she advises us to “let it go” (long before Frozen made the phrase popular) and move on. These are lessons I have carried with me all my life, and ones I try to live by.


Worry less. Act more.


“Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere.”

Erma Bombeck


What if, instead of continuing to rock in place, we spent our energy coming up with solutions? Worried about natural disasters? Create an emergency preparedness plan. Worried about a recession? Revisit your budget. Worried about a relationship? Take active steps to make it better. When we focus on what we can control, it can take our minds off what we can’t.


The nonprofits we partner with often face uncertainty. The organizations that fare best are those that create responses to each “what if” situation. Rather than focusing on the worst-case scenario, they plan for it. Sustainable organizations put strategic plans in place and follow them. They track metrics and respond accordingly. They proactively listen to and express gratitude for staff and volunteers, resulting in greater retention and satisfaction. They build reserves and create succession plans. The most successful nonprofits are proactive and forward-looking rather than reactive and hindsight focused.


Speaking of hindsight…


Forget regret. Learn instead.


“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day. You shall begin it serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson


Mistakes happen. Failure is part of life. We all ask ourselves “Should I have…? Could I have…?” But how great would it be if all that energy was put into finding the lessons from our mishaps and using them to be better moving forward? Learning happens not only when we succeed, but also when things don’t go as planned, so stop beating yourself up and look for the silver lining instead; it’s there.


Nonprofits often feel they don’t have permission to fail, which can seriously stifle creativity and innovation. Though continuously expected to do more – often with less resources than needed – nonprofit organizations may shy away from trying new approaches because of a fear of failure: Should we be investing our resources in something experimental? What will donors think? How will this affect our impact? Will the community get behind us? Even if an effort doesn’t work out as planned, regret (and failing to try) get you nowhere, but learning prepares you for the next challenge.


I recognize that pushing worry and regret aside can be difficult. We are human, after all. But looking at these emotions a little differently – as opportunities for action and learning – might just change the way you approach your life and work. I know it has for me. Thanks, Mom!

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