“Handling the Anxiety that Accompanies Ambition” By Poornima Vijayashanker
I recently received a number of requests from readers like yourself, asking me the question: “How do you deal with self-doubt and anxiety?”
You might not be one of these people, and think. “Why is she talking about personal development? Just focus on product development!”
Even if you aren’t dealing with self-doubt or anxiety, there is a high likelihood that you have a friend, family member, or colleague who might be. You might not even know it! If you want to learn how to identify who is battling it and help them, I highly recommend reading Co-Active Coaching.
If you are dealing with anxiety, know that it’s extremely hard to innovate when you’re insecure or feeling anxious, and even the most confident innovators have their bouts of self-doubt.
This is a rather deep topic, and I’m going to start by scratching the surface today by sharing a personal story.
If I receive additional interest on the topic, I’ll be happy to dig deeper.
It starts with feeling a little lonesome
About 7 years ago, I began battling a case of loneliness. Living by myself made the situation worse. While I did have many friends that I could call upon, I often felt like I was burdening them. I also felt like they couldn’t relate to what I was going through. All my girlfriends had met great guys, were getting engaged, and starting families.
I wasn’t on that path, I didn’t even know how to get on that path, and just felt ashamed. It didn’t help that my parents were always on my case about marriage and settling down.
I wanted to be free to create, and do the things I wanted to do.
Trying to find an escape route
I threw myself into my work. It was fulfilling, and it helped me hide from those whom I thought were judging me.
I started to feel a little better, until I started to get criticized at work too, and that’s when I just felt like I couldn’t do anything right.
I internalized everything: a small criticism, sarcastic remark, or disapproving look.
My heart would start to race. So I’d quietly leave work in the middle of the day, rush to my car, jump in, drive off, and burst into tears. When I had run out of tears, I’d return, and get back to work.
No one knew what was going on, even I didn’t understand what was going on.
Nothing made me happy. I just felt lost, lonely, and anxious all the time.
I tried to talk myself through it. I tried to have a positive outlook on life. I tried to be thankful. I ate well and exercised. But none of it helped.
I finally decided I didn’t want to feel anxious anymore. I wanted to find a real solution.
I reached out to a psychologist, who I thought I could trust. I told her what I was going through.
She said that I mostly suffered from anxiety, and because I was highly functional I wouldn’t need any medication. She was going to use a combination of psychotherapy + life coaching techniques to teach me how to manage my anxiety.
The future is filled with fear
The bulk of my anxiety was coming from anticipating what was going to happen in the future. I’d worry about what was going to happen in a week, a month, or a year, rather than focusing on the present.
My psychologist started out by having me practice letting things come to me. It was quite a challenge, because I was so used to pushing hard to get what I needed. But when I had to wait it made me focus on the present.
Growing thicker skin
The next challenge was to learn how to detach myself from other people’s expectations, comparisons, and drama. This was by far the hardest thing to do. So much of my happiness had come from pleasing others or competing against others. But it was a valuable exercise that made me stronger and have thicker skin.
I also learned to recognize when I was taking an all or nothing attitude, and get comfortable with setbacks both large and small.
Learning to love yourself
Finally, the most powerful lesson I learned was how to value and respect myself. I took stock of all the most trying moments in my life, and realized how much I was capable of. Even if others didn’t recognize or appreciate what I had done, it didn’t mean that I wasn’t capable.
The social stigma
I’m sharing this story with you, because there is a strong social stigma that prevents people from going to therapy or seeking help. We’re afraid we’ll be judged, because if we tell someone we’re going to a therapist, they immediately think there’s something wrong with us.
It’s actually easier to be overweight, and tell people you’re going to see a personal trainer. They’ll applaud your decision to “get healthy”.
Therapy is for people with “issues”.
That’s part of the problem!
Mental health is just as important as physical health.
Another reason people avoid it because they think that suffering is just a way of life, wear it like badge of honor, and learn to cope. I couldn’t imagine living the rest of my life with high levels of anxiety. I wanted to live a full life, be calm, and present.
There are many forms of therapy, and I’ll admit each has varying degrees of effectiveness. Part of the effectiveness comes from your perception and attitude towards it.
I see therapy as a solution for people who are interested in solving their personal problems, and developing the mental fortitude needed to tackle self-doubt and anxiety.
I’m not trying to compel you to seek therapy or counseling. My two goals are to, first tell you that I couldn’t take it anymore. I hated the way I felt, and I wanted to do something about it. Therapy gave me the tools I needed to feel better. Using those tools l learned how to manage my anxiety and self-doubt. Two years later, I was strong enough to strike out on my own, start a business, and handle the setbacks and rejection that are common to running and growing one.
The second goal is to break down the social stigma that comes with therapy.
I want to be respectful of your privacy on this topic, so only if you’re open to sharing, I’d like to ask: how have you helped others you have struggled with self-doubt or anxiety or yourself? Please let me know in the comments below.