Discover more from The Better Man
When you don't know you have an anxiety problem
And you think you're a cool cat.
Leaving aside the big picture, what is your organising principle for your work day? Here's mine: Anxiety. Or to be more specific: Avoiding anxiety.
You know those little decisions we make every hour and every day, whether to tackle the hard stuff first in the morning, whether to leave answering emails for the afternoon, and so on? All my life, I organised my day around the tasks that gave me the least anxiety, and mostly skipped the ones that gave me the maximum anxiety.
The thing is, I didn't know I was doing this at all. In fact, I thought of myself as a cool guy who doesn't have any anxiety issues. At work, my body language reflected this, and (I think) I mostly came across to my colleagues as chill and easygoing.
This tendency to avoid anxiety by instinct didn't matter enough for me to be pulled up at work because I wasn't a slacker (I used to do things that didn't cause anxiety). And news organisations have so much to do that you don't really have the time to think. But when I left the daily news grind to focus on what I call 'slow journalism', I found that I just wasn't getting enough work done.
I found I needed the adrenaline of 'reacting' to work (which, to repeat myself, was not a problem in news because all of it is about reacting). Without that crutch, I barely worked. In 2018, when I was waiting to go on a fellowship, I told a friend that “I’ve lost the ability to work.”
Long story short, I figured out that this cool guy I thought I was actually had a major and unacknowledged anxiety problem. (I probably developed this unconscious method of dealing with anxiety in early childhood.) I realised that if I didn't learn to tackle it, I would never be able to do all the amazing things that are there to do.
The funny thing is, none of the 'work smart' strategies, the 'how to' guides, the self-improvement articles helped me. The thing that helped me was really getting to know myself, and understanding how my emotions worked. The thing that helped me was understanding the internal narrative I told myself about who I am— in other words, my 'story'.
Once I got to that stage, my productivity problem mostly fixed itself, as if on auto-pilot.
Now I can actually try out all those work smart strategies! ☺️
Anyone feel like sharing their thoughts to this, or maybe their story? What’s your organising principle for daily work?
I wrote the above on LinkedIn. My friend Meera K responded to my post with, “oh yes. Sigh!” and continued:
“So were you able to figure this on your own or used some help?”
I replied with:
“Therapy! I don't know if I'd have discovered this without it. It helps to have someone to talk about these things and I find it's too much a burden to place on our near and dear who're all dealing with their own thing.”
This wasn’t a surprise to her and returned with, “Thanks - that's what I was wondering too. Good idea - maybe I will try it.”
I wouldn’t have had the courage to share this publicly even six months earlier to that post. Some time over the previous few years, I’d become aware that my ability to
not give a fuck be confident in myself was slowly getting better. This is an ongoing process, but my goal is to become a guy who’s the same on the outside and on the inside.
Wonder what getting there will really achieve for me 💭 … but that is thought for another day.