The Two Words That Suck Our Power Away

Recently I was having a bit of a…shall we say…tense moment over my finances.

It was a very real, somewhat terrifying, admittedly regressive moment.

You might recall I’m quite prone to this (for proof check out my post what we can all learn from my monthly freak-out).

This particular tension happens every year at about this time, as I close out the current year and plan for the one to come…as I think through the wonderful initiatives I’ve worked on and wonder what projects will come next.

And then, every year, without exception, my heartbeat quickens as I consider this next terrifying thought:

What if none come?

Which is then followed by this string:

  • What if I can’t afford my favorite Whole Foods salad every week?
  • What if I can’t pay the rent?
  • What if I go broke?!

I know I’m not alone here. Many of us ask these kinds of anxiety-producing questions regularly. And they aren’t just about money.

We play the what if game…

…When we think about what could happen to our kids at school

…When we think about coming down with a terrible illness

…When we think about losing our keys…missing our flight…splitting with our partners

In the end, most of these things never happen.

But that doesn’t matter in the moment we ask them. In that moment, these what if questions not only feel possible, but probable.

And these questions…these two little what if words…cause a whole lot of panic.

Yet we let these thoughts in all the time. We tell ourselves we must predict what might go wrong so that we can protect ourselves, so that we can play the role of responsible adult.


When we allow those what if questions into our minds, the truth is we’re actually playing a whole different role.


These questions aren’t simply asking whether or not these things will happen. They are asking whether or not these things will happen to us…as though we don’t have a say in the matter. As though we will need to just accept whatever fate deals us.

These two stinky little what if words completely suck our power away.

It’s happened to me every year.

Until this one.

This year, I decided to follow the best leaders I know, the leaders who don’t let those pesky two words come anywhere near their thoughts.

I decided enough was enough.

I decided that these questions were pointless

I decided that they didn’t help anything

I decided that I was no longer going to be a victim


I decided to get my power back.


I came up with two steps to do it. Perhaps you’d like to join me in exploring them.


Deirdre’s two steps to getting her power back.

Step #1: Change the question

It turns out the real problem with those what if questions has nothing to do with the scary things we imagine might happen.

The problem is with the questions themselves.

So now I no longer ask questions like:

What if no clients come?


What if I go broke?

Instead I ask questions like:

How can I engage with new people and projects this year?


How can I generate income in fun new ways this year?

Changing what if to how can I puts the power squarely back in my court.

Now, in some cases this can be equally scary. There’s a reason being the victim can feel comfortable. If our fate isn’t up to us then we don’t have the pressure of making things happen for us.

But, in the end, believing that everything we do is out of our control is a pretty scary, insecure, downright uncomfortable place to be.

Don’t you think?

Step #2: Change the answer

Sometimes the exact things we fear when we ask the what if question actually happens. And when it does, what do we do?

We deal with it.

Other times a bad things happens that we never even thought about. And when it does, what do we do?

We deal with it.

We are a resilient, smart, strong people. When things happen we take action. We respond and we find support and we figure things out.

We never hide in the corner and stay there for the rest of our lives. That’s not how we operate.

So…when we can’t quite escape those pesky what if questions, here’s the solid answer, the one that, no matter what, is true every time.

“I’ll deal with it.”

We might not know how. We might not have it all figured out. But that’s okay. We’ll deal with it.

Really, there’s no other choice.

And, chances are, we’ll come out even stronger on the other side. We’ll emerge victorious. We’ll gain more than we lose.

That’s what I’m counting on as I give up those what if questions. It won’t be easy. I won’t be perfect. But, in the end, it’ll be a whole lot better than the tornado of anxiety that comes every year at about this time.

After all, who needs that??


As you begin making plans for the upcoming year, as you feel anxiety about what might happen to you, commit to getting your power back.

Change the question. Ask yourself: “How can I do this for myself?”

Change the answer. Tell yourself: “I’ll deal with it if it happens.”

Then walk around with your head held high.

And know that you are nobody’s victim.

Now go do good…and do it well.




25 responses to “The Two Words That Suck Our Power Away”

  1. Bonnie Schwartz Avatar

    Love your blog.

    I have a step-daughter who has lived in the “what if” world, causing her anxiety and stress. I gave her the “don’t sweat the small stuff” book years ago. Fortunately she has gotten much better and is able to cope by taking power into her own hands.

    Our attitudes (and perspectives) contribute to the “peace” in our lives and get us through stressful times. I completely agree with changing the question, taking steps to change the circumstance as much as possible and moving forward.

    Thanks for your article.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
      Deirdre Maloney

      Thanks for giving this a read, Bonnie, and for your story. Good for your step-daughter for using some solid techniques to decrease her stress. It’s not easy!

  2. Emily Davis Avatar

    This is great. I’ve been thinking about this more and more. One of the first things I do when I get panicked in this way is to take small steps. What’s something I can do in this moment to make me feel good and accomplished about what’s on my plate? The second thing I do is to look at my past successes. It’s a reminder that good things are always possible. Self talk can go a long way to avoid the “what ifs.” Thanks for this!!!

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
      Deirdre Maloney

      Great advice! I think baby steps can go far in relieving stress. Feeling like you’re making progress on things can make a huge psychological difference for those pesky thoughts in our minds!

      1. Emily Davis Avatar

        I remind myself that even if I don’t have the answer, that I do have the tools to find the answer. It’s about trusting myself and… as you said, reframing the questions and addressing the fears. Feeling this crunch too right now. Hang in there!

        1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
          Deirdre Maloney

          Man, it’s funny how something as simple-sounding as trust can be so tricky, yes? I just find that the more we know what we’re capable of – and the more we can rely on great support systems to help remind us – the stronger we can be in the long run. Thanks for the great comment!

  3. Hannah Avatar

    I’d like to hear more about this process of closing out one year and setting goals for another. Is this a formalized thing that you do? What’s it like? I really like the idea and could certainly use some help in not just slogging my way through the Christmas season and ending up with even more debt, all in a fog once the new year begins. That’s no way to start a year! Help!

    And thanks for your insight on the what if questions. It was just what I needed to hear today

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
      Deirdre Maloney

      Thanks for the question, Hannah. I actually make my process on this pretty formal, conducting my own personal strategic plan every year. I go through a similar process to the one I walk my clients through…everything from a SWOT analysis to some guided questions about what worked and didn’t in the past year. I examine where my energy was best and where it was sucked dry. And then I plan to make changes, setting both year-long goals and steps I plan to take along the way to get there. I also add in a nice lunch spot and, often, a massage or other relaxing activity in the afternoon. It’s wonderful!

      1. Emily Davis Avatar

        This is great advice. I’m assuming there is a personal mission statement in there some where along with what you will and won’t take on and why. I’m working on this and shifting my focus to efforts that I love and are best for clients. It’s great to find that mutually-beneficial connection.

  4. Cheri Friedman Avatar
    Cheri Friedman

    What if…. Two of the scrariest words and single concept to get over. I’ve found over time that instead of segmenting time into this year and next year that I’m continually planning for an 18 month time period. That period shifts forward each and everyday. It helps me to understand that everything I do is connected and what I do today will have an impact (hopefully positive) tomorrow, the next day, and next year.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
      Deirdre Maloney

      I love this idea! Looking ahead on a rolling basis is a nice way to not feel so boxed in on our goals. I do like to set steps, as I described above, but also find that focusing more on the future and less on exactly what I did and didn’t get to in the past is a better way to stay focused and keep my spirits up…thanks for the comment!

  5. Hanna Cooper Avatar

    Deidre, this is a great process for dealing with the inevitable worries of being a human! Thanks for giving such a concrete way of proactively getting out of the victim box and back into our own power & brilliance!

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
      Deirdre Maloney

      My pleasure – thank YOU for giving this a read and taking the time to comment. Appreciate it!

  6. Heidi Hancock Avatar

    Yay Deirdre! Take that power back! retraining our inner voice is super important. That little voice can be pretty doggone sneaky, too!

    On the flip side, I love using “what if” when thinking about possibilities for my clients, and for the causes that are important to me. “What if” helps identify the vast possibilities of good things, and then the planning on “how to” make the “what if” a reality is a fun and visionary process.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
      Deirdre Maloney

      This is so true, Heidi. In fact, I struggled whether or not to bring about the positive side of the “what if” question (the dreaming of possibilities) in this post, but in the end felt it might be confusing my points. I’m so glad you did it for me! 🙂

  7. Natasha Avatar

    I agree with you…the problem is in the questions we ask. I remember reading a book that recommended saying over and over to yourself “I can handle it” when you feel suffocated by the “what if” question and have found that to help so much. Can’t wait to pass this post on!

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
      Deirdre Maloney

      Thanks Natasha…and it’s so true. We all really CAN handle it, and have proven it time and time again. We just forget that part when we go into panic mode!

  8. Patricia Costa Avatar
    Patricia Costa

    Thank you Deirdre. I so needed to hear this. I’m a big one on “what if” and I cause myself much stress and worry. Most of the time what I worry about doesn’t happen. I have my own slogan of “keep my head where my feet are” to remind me to stay in the moment. Take action when needed and then let go.

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
      Deirdre Maloney

      I love that saying…and very true. We often let our heads get away from us, projecting far into the future…and that’s no good for any of us! Thanks for the comment!

  9. Craig Blower Avatar
    Craig Blower

    As always – right on schedule. If ever I needed this reminder, it is today. Thanks!

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
      Deirdre Maloney

      Excellent! Timing is everything, yes? I’m so glad this one got to your inbox on the right day 🙂

  10. Carolyn Zollars Avatar
    Carolyn Zollars

    This time of the year tends to bring about panic for a number of reasons. A good reminder to keep our thoughts “above water” and remain confident in order to not despair! Also, we need to keep a sense of humor which is key too. Your comments are always timely so thank you!

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
      Deirdre Maloney

      Great point, Carolyn…I actually think your comment about humor is one of the most important. Finding a way to laugh along with our panic has a funny way of putting things in perspective!

  11. Benny Cartwright Avatar

    What a wonderful post, Deirdre. This post is really inspiring to me because I’ve been a huge “what if” stresser. I just posted this to Facebook and am resolving today to turn the “what if’s” around! Thank you!

    1. Deirdre Maloney Avatar
      Deirdre Maloney

      Excellent Benny! I’m so pleased to hear that this post was helpful – and truly appreciate your spreading the messages around! Best of luck avoiding the “what if” trap!