After years of not identifying as an anxious person, I finally have come to terms with the fact that I do indeed have crazy anxious thoughts flying through my mind a lot of the time. To the casual observer or to my best friends and closest confidantes, I have been told I exude calm and presence. I am what someone would call high functioning, meaning it probably took that much longer to come to this realization because after all, if I’m getting shit done, there’s nothing to fix, right?
Well, according to our high achieving always-do-more (ESPECIALLY in NYC) culture, that made even more sense. I threw myself into work – always doing more, sitting longer, being busier.
This had some far-reaching ramifications. I’ve often written about some of my chronic pain I’ve worked through over the last few years.
But there’s a major ramification I totally overlooked. For years I’ve chalked up my chronic pain to how my body is made (internally rotated and narrow hips) and didn’t account for any other factor. For sure, my body in its natural state is not built for a career as a contortionist, but I didn’t account for how my anxiety, people pleasing, and near constant loops of second guessing has exacerbated any natural tendencies.
This led me to start to meditate with a journal next to me. After I’d finish the 10 minute sit, I’d jot down what came up. Looking back over a few weeks, I was astonished at a clear pattern that emerged: I was constantly worried. You name it:
How will the logistics with my plans with friends go since their kids all have different nap times?
I haven’t seen Kate in awhile- does she even want to see me?
Did I put Sara’s beach chairs back the way she wanted?
YOU FREAKING NAME IT. I mean, beach chairs? And then I took the not-far leap to think: if this is taking up my precious headspace, how can I actually CREATE something wonderful for me, my people and my community, including you, who read my emails on the regular.
But what to do about this?! I figured I needed to remove distractions- social media, texts, email, etc. I totally had shiny object syndrome – I’d get that dopamine hit from seeing a new email come into my inbox which was obviously open all day and I’d just reinforce the behavior Pavlovian Style.
Anyway, I barrelled through that and through sheer force of will, I did it. I eliminated a LOT of distractions. Not all the time- I’m not a levitating buddha- but often.
And then I realized, I was really struggling with doing deep work- where I can lose myself in a problem or goal and really break it down. Society had trained me to fall into a shallow work loop. Many of us are knowledge workers (in other words, we work in an office, not a factory) and without true measures of output, like widgets produced per unit of time, we default to external benchmarks of productivity, like how quickly we respond to email and how ‘indispensible’ we are. But all the while, we’re not doing anything that really matters to us, so we get disengaged, our work output and quality isn’t that great and we either job hop, go through a full fledged career change or stay under the radar doing mediocre work for years…or more.
So, the work with my therapist, my meditation community and myself/journal merges here with this concept of deep work.
Many of us have feelings of unworthiness. They emerge in different ways. For me it’s an anxiety fueled cycle of overdoing it and people pleasing. For you, it could manifest as a feeling of superiority or annoyance over others. For others, it could be anger. Or, it could be a combination of different manifestations that are dependent on the circumstances or the people.
Here’s how I see this impacting our actual work:
Thoughts of Unworthiness → Feelings of Anxiety → Actions of overdoing it and being constantly available and answering “oh I’m ‘super crazy busy’” when asked how you are
The cycle gets reinforced time and again as follows in a vicious cycle of shallow work:
Regular Quick outward appearances of work, like responding ASAP to an email → unhappiness at work because it doesn’t feel meaningful in any way → job hopping, high turnover, and lack of engagement.
We need to work through these feelings of what Tara Brach calls the “Trance of Unworthiness” AND our inability/fear/lack of knowledge on how to do deep meaningful work.
And then, and only then, can we create programs and systems for our companies, teams or ourselves as individual contributors that keep us engaged and keep us producing needle-moving work that actually matters.
Ready to join us on this ride? We’re going to be providing more and more resources to help you at work so keep following us @thecareerpassport on Instagram.
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