Why Anxiety Stops Us From Succeeding

Anxiety is mentally paralysing. For this article I'm going to be a little more autobiographical, and demonstrate through my own experiences how my personal anxiety has affected my career ambitions, to see how we can build the confidence to live and dream.
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I'm now 32 years old and have been working a slew of forgettable, dead-end, entry-level jobs ever since I finished college when I was 19. My old school teachers were always very encouraging of my artwork and literature, and instilled a narcissistic attitude well into my adult life that I was underachieving, but had the potential to ascend.

Aerith from Final Fantasy VII
My sketch of Aerith from Final Fantasy VII

While I've always maintained that I'm not keen on travelling far for work because I'm not a fan of driving for long periods, that has meant that I've been confined to finding local work, which in my town means either retail, care work or warehouse duties.

There's nothing wrong with these vocations, but I've never managed to find a good fit that's really "me". I worked nights in retail for 6 years because I had a great group of colleagues, and while the company was great I felt that I'd outgrown the work long before.

I told myself that I was young, that there was plenty of time to make a career I care about in the future, and that I was merely wanting to fund my social life. We were made redundant in the end and I quickly had to find another job, as my girlfriend and I were wanting to buy a house. 

Now here was a golden opportunity for me to take stock of my career. At this point, I was 27 and yearning for pastures new anyway, and 'brainstormed' all of my skillsets, likes, and interests to hone in onto a new line of work that I would enjoy more.

I'd applied for a Graphic Design course when I was 23 and was accepted, but I didn't go in the end for fear of having less money from working part-time, and that was when I lived at home so didn't have any bills. That same worry arose again this time. I didn't realise on both occasions that anxiety was the cause of my job fears.

So now at the age of 27 on the cusp of buying a house, I felt pressured into joining a business to have a regular, predictable income. I told myself that I was now too old for college and learning new tricks.

We are so pressured to know what we want to do at a school-age; to start learning from the age of 18-19 our life careers, that it has become a social stigma to be an older student. The fear of stepping into the unknown and trying something that I enjoyed seemed like a whimsical pipe-dream. Unattainable. Impossible.

I settled on a continental job that was 3 days on, 3 days off, 3 nights on, and 3 days off. It sounded ideal at first: only working 3 days in a row and then having 3 off. They were 12-hour shifts which dragged but the money was a lot better and there were bonuses every 3 months.

While I knew from the outset it was a grey, austere factory full of unfriendly people who never said thank you when I held the door open for them, I stuck with it as I had a happy home life that I looked forward to, and my savings were going up nicely. 

#mansfield #miningtown
Mansfield was a mining town and the root of the local physical labour psyche. Source: Our Mansfield & Area

But there's that phrase: "stuck with it". I "stuck with it" for nearly 5 years and have recently resigned. I was born in the generation that has been told from a young age to "stick at things" or to "get a trade behind you" in regards to career advice.

Now, this was solid, well-meaning advice from the generation before, as my town was originally a miners' town, and that was the chief source of employment for young men: to go to the pits for many hours a day all your life for "good money". "Getting a trade behind you" literally means something in the construction sector; such as bricklaying, decorating, or plumbing. 

However, I've also grown up in the generation that, albeit with the millennial attitude of wanting to see instant results and recognition for little or no input, knows about better opportunities and expanding technologies, meaning you can work from home. No longer do we have to "stick at things" when there is a lot more on offer than what we used to have to settle with.

I accept that perseverance is a nice tool to have in your arsenal, but I worry now about how damaging to the psyche it can be to keep going to a workplace that you detest, day in and day out just to see some numbers in your bank balance at the end of the month. 

General anxiety disorder (GAD)
General anxiety disorder (GAD). Image source: shutterstock

"I've felt like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. I just never fit in, and the more I tried the more I had to chip away at myself"

Now I'm not being ungrateful or snobbish here. I know that so many people don't have a choice where they work or what they have to do to feed their families and keep a roof over their heads. Believe me, I know. And I also appreciate how lucky I am to live in Britain with the opportunities on offer today.

For 5 years I've worked in a factory where I've felt like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. I just never fit in, and the more I tried the more I had to chip away at myself.

I felt trapped because I needed the money. I've got the heart of an artist and a writer, and while I did my work diligently, it never suited me working nights and working with chemicals in a grey dismal factory. What finally made me leave, however, including the wages going down and bonuses cancelled, was the callous disregard the company had for not letting me use furlough through the pandemic, even when they knew my girlfriend was pregnant and classed as vulnerable.

My anxiety, (the same as many millions' others I'm sure at the start of the pandemic) accelerated and made me edgy and nervous. I didn't want to work for a place like that so I just used to turn up in the end and decided not to work hard for a company that had no respect or care for my families' wellbeing. I waited for more opportunities to present themselves as we steadily come out of the pandemic. 

Mansfield Amazon
Mansfield Amazon.  Image source: Nottingham Post

But I didn't learn my lesson. The need for a comfortable, low-risk safe business structure overcame my ambitions. I fell into the same trap again of going for attractive hours with 3 days off and enrolled at my local Amazon. Right from the day, one 10 hours felt like 16, in an even bigger grey factory filled with unresponsive people, a prison-like break structure, and feeling like a battery hen in a booth.

"For better or worse our work is our legacy that we leave behind"

While this time I did it for the right reasons regarding childcare, once again I felt like a pointless, replaceable cog in a machine that doesn't care about me, or what I might have to offer beyond being a pair of hands. I realised that 40 hours a week is a long time to spend being miserable, and not caring about the work you do.

For better or worse our work is our legacy that we leave behind. Did I really want my life's work to be a thankless factory task? It's work that needs doing yes, but there are so many people that would prefer to do it, where I can easily be replaced. I've had to dig deep and realise that my mind has more to offer than my body. I've had my share of physical labour, and have had 12 years of night shifts that have wrecked my body clock

Is the money worth more than quality time spent doing something you prefer for less?

This is the question that has been plaguing me recently. I've been writing on and off for years; writing movie reviews on WordPress to no viewership, but I didn't mind because it was a labour of love: perfecting sentences and reading back what I'd written, being proud of the finished result. I've always kept a little candle burning in my head: the hope that one day I would be a writer.

It doesn't have to be anything prolific: just to be my main source of income, I'm not greedy. The title and recognition would work wonders for my self-esteem, to validate my hopes. However, my anxiety and past experiences with failure have made me so timid and reluctant to venture to chase this small dream.

success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm
 Source: BrainyQuote

My earlier teachings of having to stick at things; the fear of change, the fear of failure, have held me back to the age of 32; and may well still keep me back for much longer. But now I'm more scared that I will go to my deathbed having never tried, and moved from a badly suited job to a badly suited job right up to retirement age. To be old and bitter without ever knowing if I could have used my imagination and literary aspirations for more than just intelligent conversation.

I enjoyed my English Literature A-Levels; actually enjoyed them because I knew I'd nailed them. I've been told that I'm moderately good at drawing so I was always encouraged to do more with that if anything. But truth be told drawing bores me once I've captured the resemblance. Shading in after that is a chore. It never entered my head that I should be chasing another skillset. 

Being a writer would be me being a square peg fitting into a square hole. I can't believe it's taken me 'til now to start trying to realise that reality. My anxiety might well be well-founded, however: for I've recently dipped my toe into the writers' community and there is a lot of competition out there from very talented yet friendly people. It feels like the first day at school surrounded by elites and feeling inadequate

Three years ago I had an idea for a short superhero novel that I believe is a really great story. I've carried it like a talisman of salvation that might lift me from a life of career drudgery, but I know that if I tried to have it published, and it wasn't well-received, or ignored by the parent company due to licensing, it would crush me inside.

The introvert in me would be too scared to raise my head out of the ground again. I've half-written it, got the layout fully worked out, but something inside me is too scared to finish it in case it's no good. But I hope that I'm learning to accept some failures and stumbles on the right path. I'm now willing to put the work in and give things a try. 

I've recently been accepted for a writing internship that comes with all-essential SEO training, which seems to be a gateway into the writers' world. I hope that this internship will be my first gingerly placed step onto a ladder that I actually want to climb.

I accept that I have no attractive experience on my resume, that a would-be employer would only see a string of retail and factory work. As I've explained about my locale and jaded psyche, my anxiety has left a legacy of unproven potential and doesn't reflect my self-image

So what is it about anxiety that can affect our approach to life? To chase a dream career? To ask out that girl or boy you like? To wearing that outfit? In my own experience, environmental upbringing can be a factor, job-wise. Millennial youthful entitlement and the steady decline of a better future are not being realised.

The feeling that what you have to offer might not be good enough, and general inadequacy. Going against your parents' wishes can play a powerful part in straying away from our desired paths. Fear of change, and the unknown has personally held me back for the majority of my 20's. Past experiences of failures and heartbreak can make us cynical against future attempts.

My own esteem now lies in pursuing a writing career. Is there something that you too wish to pursue, but have felt held back by? Please let me know! If you have any negative feelings, self-doubts, or anxiety, please confide or reach out to a loved one; or seek guidance from a licensed professional. There are many sources out there that are willing to help. I wish you well.

Jason is a freelance content writer living in Nottinghamshire whose preferred topics are movie/game reviews and climate change.

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