“A problem shared is a problem halved" - an old adage we’ve probably all heard from at least one elderly relative, and probably at a time when it was the last thing you wanted to hear.
But it turns out there might just be some truth behind Great Aunt Nell’s words of wisdom - according to research by Age UK, nearly a fifth of UK adults have something constantly playing on their mind, with over half the population shouldering several worries a day, and nearly another fifth carrying around more than 10 worries at any one time.
As a nation of worriers, perhaps these figures don’t come as a great revelation, but with the top topics of concern being finance, health, age and the stress of work - basically something for everyone - it seems worth considering just what improvements we can all make in order to help ourselves out a little.
Personally I have always found I shared my problems easily (thanks Mum), and when it comes to work I’ve never been shy of saying what I think (thanks Dad). But over the last few months I’ve had several experiences (penny-drop moments even) that have helped me put into context what has been a somewhat challenging professional year for me.
Rewind to the end of last summer and I found myself in a bit of a position of professional isolation - even though I had peers and a great team around me, I often felt out on a limb, doubting, facing problems that it seemed no one else could see, or that hadn’t been there previously. At the time I wasn’t really sure what was going on - “is it just me?” - and even though I’m a confident person, my professional confidence seemed to be taking a hit.
Add to that multiple responsibilities - people, clients, a whole host of other things - and my ‘problems’ seemed compounded. It was well-timed coincidence then that at the end of the summer I found myself on a bus with a group of wide-eyed attendees winding through the majestic Norwegian fjords to Clearleft's Design Leadership retreat in the mountains.
Now in the interest of brevity and out of respect for all those present, I’m skipping over the retreat itself here, apart from to say that it’s no surprise that taking time away from our day-to-day emails, meetings and routines in a setting that begged relaxation and reflection would yield positive mental outcomes. However what I didn’t expect was the revelation that in fact I wasn’t as ‘alone’ as I’d thought - it turns out that everyone on the retreat had similar (in some cases almost identical) professional concerns as me. Through the process of sharing these with each other it also became clear that we all had a lot of the ‘answers’ to these concerns - we’d just needed to hear someone else say it to believe it.
Of the 3 in 10 adults that regularly share their worries, over a third claim to feel brighter and more positive as a result,
When people share their worries with others, it can have a positive impact on their situation - of the 3 in 10 adults that regularly share their worries, over a third claim to feel brighter and more positive as a result, with others reporting feelings of relief and even the disappearance of their problems. For me this couldn’t have been more true - the net result of sharing with others was a vastly increased sense of personal professional confidence - knowing that others in similar roles with more experience than me shared my worries made a big impact, and helped me step back a little and see the (Norwegian) wood for the trees.
Fast-forward from snowy September in Norway to rainy November in London, and I found myself in the audience once again at Clearleft’s stellar Leading Design conference. I won’t spend the time here extolling the conference’s virtues, but what I will say is that in my recently refreshed professional mindset I started picking up on lots of moments in which speakers, attendees and peers were openly sharing - “I thought it was just me”, “recently, there was this thing”, “oh, that happens for you too?”.
Get a room full of like-minded professionals with similar experiences together and this kind of conversation is inevitable - indeed it’s one of the many side-benefits of conferences and meet ups - however, the step change for me was acknowledging the importance and frequency of those conversations and realising that there’s a lot more shared concern out there than I (we) all might have thought.
I’ve started to try and notice these opportunities more and more, and have been making an effort to share (and be shared with) as much as possible. Now I’m not suggesting that by running off to hills to cleanse ourselves in nature whilst outpouring all our worldly worries we’ll solve all our professional troubles (what happens in Norway stays in Norway, right?!), but I am saying that you could do a lot worse for yourself than taking a little time to reflect, connect with others in a similar position to you, and notice the conversations that you’re having.
You never know, you might just find that ol’ Nell was right after all. And what was it that she said about a ‘fortifying sherry’? It is the season after all…
Our next Leading Design retreat is specifically for women (and those identifying as such) is in the Cotswolds, and applications are open now.