What to do When You’re Dreading Something


Note:  This was originally published on March 11, 2013


When I woke him up for the second time on Sunday morning, my beloved son had that 15 year old’s look of anxious dread, and he breathed the heavy sigh to confirm it. I stole my own deep breath and sat on the side of his bed.  So many leadership discussions are duets, as much as dialogues. You meet your boss, your spouse, your co-worker with words, but with music, too. And so, as if with the gentlest stringed instrument, I asked him “What’s up?” and he sighed — as much as he said — “Just anxious.” Hallelulah’s for self-awareness! How great when someone can label what’s going on. I probed, still softly, “anything in particular?” Another sigh and he offered, “Too much homework. Not enough time.”

Fresh from re-reading Eckhardt Tolle, I invited him to see if he could hear that voice of dread, but not identify with it. “See if you can hear the anxiety, but don’t get on the side of it, arguing against yourself. See if you can just hear it, but not have to get carried away by it.” I told him how Tolle talks about “putting a little space” in there between your thoughts and your response to them. I told him I was feeling the same pressure about a big lecture I’m giving on Thursday. Time and again, I worry about these things (I was singing his song now, but with a little different sound, a little twist, a high harmony).  I told him that I still worry, and then I pull it off — not perfectly, but well.  Just as he pulls off his homework every Sunday.  He nodded….as if he were now a different person.

Reflecting later, I was reminded of an interview where Livingston Taylor talks about his brother James’ under-appreciated guitar-playing. Livingston, a professor at Berklee School of Music, talked about how James creates rhythm, working the pauses and rests as much as the notes themselves. That in turn reminded me of how my friend John Burkhardt teared up as he played Handel’s Messiah for me, and said, “listen, listen for the pause” — the pause before the great Amen. He seemed transported by that space.

The pause.

A space between the thought –    or the sigh, the gasp –             and           the “I am.”

I think “I can’t.”  I think “This is the time it’s all going to fall apart.”  And

I put space in.

I realize, “I think this.” Or, “I feel this.” But “I AM NOT this.”

Just enough space.


I asked Jack, “Does it help you to think of putting some space in there?” And he said, “Yes.”  And added as he swiveled his feet to the floor, “And it always feels better to be doing something instead of just thinking about it.”  Pause.


Put some space somewhere today, as you

Lead with your best self!