I have been struggling with fear. I have been experiencing panic attacks. This is all related to my work, and it is completely irrational.
I’m working in a new area and I thought that I was feeling adrift because I don’t know what I'm doing. I have kept putting obstacles in my own way and it seemed to be the easiest thing to write off my anxiety to my own lack of knowledge and laziness (I even blogged about it!). “If I only do some research and get a bit more knowledge, I’ll be OK.” “If I only complete this other project and focus, I’ll be OK.” I’ve struggled to do either of these things. It is more logical and more palatable to call myself lazy than it is to call myself fearful.
I’ve been operating under the assumption that there is this whole new topic I need to learn and once I get it, everything will become clear. The truth is that there is nothing of such significance for me to learn. There is no clarity to come. I know what the work is and I can do it. I have done far bigger and scarier things in my career, and I have delivered results I would not have imagined I could possibly deliver. I have been anxious about projects, I’ve been stressed, and I’ve been nervous about certain situations, but I have never been so completely paralyzed by fear. Why is this happening to me? This is clearly going to be an evolving conversation.
I’ve worked hard over the last number of years and having never had much ambition, suddenly found I actually do have the desire to progress. I am a step below senior management and I want to get there. I am so close yet have never felt so far away from it. The reality of my financial situation and desire to be debt free with replenished retirement funds and savings has put extreme focus on my income, plus the need to increase it. I am ashamed to admit there is a small amount of ego and “I deserve it” in the equation, but the bigger truth is this is just about money and making more of it.
I try desperately not to lose sight of the fact that had I not been moved into this new position, due to the state of the economy and reality of the business I was in, it was more likely that I would lose my income completely (job elimination) than it was for me to move up. I am unbelievably fortunate and grateful to be given this new opportunity, and yet I can’t sleep at night.
My fear seems to be stemming from the perception (real or not) that I have gone backwards. I don’t find this work particularly challenging. I don’t really find it interesting. I am not seeing the path to progression here. That said, the only obstacle to me succeeding is my own anxiety.
For some reason, I have completely lost confidence in my ability to do [what I consider to be] a lesser job. I am comparing myself to others in the group and coming up with nothing but an inferiority complex. For the first time ever, I actually feel that I am not good enough.
I seem to be trapped in a vicious circle. I want to show everyone how good I still am but with every opportunity I panic and end up feeling even more like a failure. I get angry and frustrated because I know I’m better than that and I visualize how things will play out next time. I can’t do anything with that amount of pressure but panic again.
I keep repeating that this is completely irrational. I am my only barrier to success. The overwhelming pressure to perform is only coming from me. I am getting nothing but support and positive feedback from my boss, and her boss, and her boss… Yet, four times in the last few weeks I have experienced a panic attack in the most innocuous of meetings or on conference calls to the point where I can't breathe and I can't speak. Fortunately, through pretending to have a coughing fit or pretending I am otherwise sick, I have managed to cover it up.
What is the worst that can happen on a conference call or in a meeting?
- I need to defer to someone else or admit I need to find out the answer and get back to the group.
That's all! Nobody is going to point and laugh. I know how to describe my position and the objectives of our team. I know the current status of all my current projects. There is no logical reason that I should be intimidated or frightened to speak on any of these topics.
What is the worst that can happen if this position does not lead me to the next level?
- I stay employed and keep my income, medical insurance, benefits etc.
- I learn additional skills that can be applied to future opportunities
- I gain a broader perspective on the world
There is no conclusion or solution to end with. It’s a jumble because I still can’t make sense of it or figure out how to overcome. I am just trying to dig through the problem and hope to get through my work day without a panic attack.