One’s real life is so often the life that one does not leadOscar Wilde, 1882, introduction to a collection of verse.
Welcome to my blog! Here I write about whatever’s on my mind or whatever fad I’ve just gotten into.
The whole New Year thing made me think about the goals people might be setting themselves for the year; specifically career goals. If you’re an anxious person or suffer profoundly from anxiety, then sorting your career out – or even finding time to prioritise it among life’s other junk – can be daunting.
I’ve always had really, really shitty anxiety, so I completely understand and I had this same fear about a career myself, to the point that for a while I even convinced myself that I didn’t really want one. But what else was I going to do? Oh yeah, I know: have depression.
So, without further waffle, here is a short list of some things I learned after graduating university as an incredibly anxious person.
This blog assumes you’ve already got a degree and perhaps have a job already, but you haven’t found what you’re looking for yet because you’re scared. This blog also assumes you’ve identified what you enjoy and the field you’d like to work in.
To reiterate: I am no expert.
I just hope this might help somebody with anxiety, because I know how it feels. Blogs like this helped me when I was in the same position.
Start with a positive attitude; and if you don’t have one, force it.
It’s a bit like forcing yourself to laugh; eventually you start finding that, in and of itself, funny – and you start laughing for real. The fact is you’ll never start making plans if you begin with “I can’t…” – you need to start saying “I can”. Do not be your own bully and start believing in yourself; stop telling yourself lies about your self-worth. Make the decision to be positive and give yourself a break.
Imagine yourself in that role.
Who would you be, ideally? Who do you see yourself being when you aren’t bogged-down with self-doubt? Break up the elements of that person and use it to create your blueprint. All right, I’m not saying you can go from being a librarian to a trauma surgeon (this isn’t The Sims) if you do this, because that’s unrealistic. However, if you’re working in Job A but know you could be working in Job B if-only-this or if-only-that, then you absolutely can.
Being scared of something is no reason not to do it anyway, not if you honestly believe it’s something you’ll do well at. (If it isn’t, then that’s a problem – more on that later) Also: keep it simple. If you eventually want to be CEO of a retailer and you’ve never worked in a shop, then picture yourself working in sales first. Give yourself an achievable starting point and then work out what you need to do to get there. If you need experience first, then go get your foot in the door. What else do you have but time? At this stage, time is your friend!
Apply for lots and lots of jobs once you’ve chosen where to start.
Start at the beginning and don’t over-analyse it. Think about the skills you’ll gain rather than whether this is your dream job (of course it isn’t!) For example, you want to work in HR but have no experience: so you begin with administration roles. Yeah, yeah, you’ve got a degree: so what? We all know experience does all the talking. BUT, you do not have to already be perfect. You just need to demonstrate where you’ve built up your skill-set within that field. If you want to be analysing evidence for the Police with your chemistry degree, then you’d better start off doing the grunt work in a lab.
At the height of my anxiety, I became a little arrogant, actually. I thought people were just given chances to shine and I didn’t see all the baby steps (and baby jobs) they took to get there. Transferable skills will be your trump card, so start building them up.
For the anxious person, getting your “dream job” overnight would actually be ridiculously overwhelming. Try starting on a smaller scale (entry-level jobs within that field) and teach yourself that you can do this. Baby steps.
Before walking into your interview, tell yourself three things:
(1) These people are going to really like me, and I am going to really like them.
(2) I have nothing to lose. If I don’t gain a job, I gain experience.
(3) They’ve already decided I have the skills for the job; I’m just here to show them why they were right. (It’s true!)
For me, saying those things (and telling others) took the pressure off massively. I wasn’t there to be perfect or to even get the job. I was there to like them, to be likeable, to get experience, and to add colour to what they already learned about me on my CV.
Story time: Before getting the job I have now, I was invited to an interview with a children’s cancer charity in central London (gulp). I went to it on the last day of a week-long hospital stay (and I didn’t tell them this) because I was determined to try. I wanted a new job and I was f-ing well going to get one, in spite of my previously poor health. The interview was with 2 lovely women and we got on fantastically; it was like having a fun chat. Only problem was that part of the role required fundraising/finance experience, and I was honest about being low on that front.
They took an entire week to get back to me, having said it’d be a day or so. It turns out they were conflicted over 2 candidates: someone else, and me. They wrote me a long letter (which almost sounded like an apology) saying that they really liked me, but had to go with the person who had the experience in fundraising, and hoped I would consider working with them for other roles in the future. Of course, they made the right decision! They absolutely should have hired the woman with monetary experience and I hope she’s happy there.
I was so flattered by their letter that I cried and shared it with everyone I knew. I felt amazing and I didn’t even get the job!
The point is that it isn’t all doom and gloom; there are so many opportunities for learning and you’ll be so surprised about what you find.
Practice, practice, practice your interviewing skills.
The only way you’ll get over your nerves is if you normalise it. If you aren’t getting many interviews at first or feel like you’re bombing your interviews because of nerves, then contact a local organisation (Jobcentre Plus for example) and find out where you can get some roleplaying practice. It is gruelling, but your nerves will eventually subside. I know this from experience; I used to get the shakes, my throat would glue shut, and I couldn’t think straight. I practiced and now, while I still (of course) get nervous, I manage to hold my own and confidently answer questions without going blank.
Listen to what they are asking you, pause, and reply. Do not try to predict their questions and answer with a prepared script, because this will never work. It isn’t genuine and it will never give you the chance to shine just as you are. Let yourself be vulnerable and don’t try to control the interview so much. You’ll lose and they won’t get a genuine picture of all your smart, endearing qualities.
This is so, so important, especially if you work in health, social care, or charity.
When I was interviewed for my current role, it was in front of a panel of 3 males who all worked in finance. I was scared! However, I decided to just be myself and talk about my experiences honestly. Once I got the job, I was told that others had more editorial experience than me, but they didn’t answer like I did and they didn’t have my personality. They just liked me and felt I’d fit in well (and I have!).
The point is that you matter. It isn’t all about what’s down on paper.
Listen to your instincts.
Equally, if something doesn’t feel right to you, then it probably isn’t. Sometimes it isn’t just about your nerves; sometimes you and the job just don’t fit and that’s okay. Did you have the interview and get a bad feeling about them? Did you start on the job, having been thrilled to get it, and find that you’re deeply unhappy?
Things aren’t always what we imagine them to be, and if you have to go back to the drawing board and find something else, then do it.
This is not a failure. Recognising that a role is poorly fitted to you is a skill.
Story time: I worked for my local council and one day saw an advert for a fast-track diploma to become a social worker, with the option of completing a Masters. Great! I was bored in my role and always wondered what it’d be like. I was invited to interview for 3 available places. Over 10,000 people applied nation-wide and hundreds of local people applied for those 3 roles.
I was invited to interview: great! It was a day-long 3-stage process of a group interview/discussion with adults who had grown up in care, a time roleplaying session where you “answered” a call from a distressed child in front of an examiner, and a standard interview with a panel of 3 social workers.
To my astonishment, I did really well and I was offered a place. I went to Cambridge to study for a couple of months, where we did dreaded roleplay (and a filmed roleplay exam) and the usual essays. This was not a good time for me personally; I was dating a horrible person and my health was spiraling down. I hadn’t long recovered from major surgery and I was incredibly fragile mentally; everything seemed too much for me and I felt I couldn’t give any more. Everyone else seemed to be dealing with the stresses of the course, and by the time the actual work placement began, I was hanging on by a thread. Then when I didn’t get along with my workplace mentor, it all just collapsed. The slightest criticism sent me to tears and I was having such severe migraines that I was vomiting all the time. It was horrible.
I sat and asked myself: Ashleigh, is this actually want you want? Is this really for you? Even if it was, would it be worth it with your health in such a state?
No, none of it was worth it. Sadly, I left the course, but I was instantly relieved. I was hospitalised many times in the year that followed for a week at a time (which would have forced me to leave the course anyway), so things happen for a reason. It led me to where I am.
I felt guilty that I’d taken the place of someone who potentially would have flourished where I didn’t, but I couldn’t predict that my health (mental and physical) would have nose-dived the way it did.
You have got to look after yourself. Fuck anyone who thinks that’s wrong of you. It isn’t. YOU MATTER.
Overall, my advice is to take baby steps and be kind to yourself.
You know the phrase: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!
Yes, making the first leap into something new and unknown is terrifiyng, and like me, you might discover that it’s not right for you.
This is all good. It’s part of the learning experience. How dull must a person be if they never try, never fail, and never collect these experiences, both good and bad?
Sometimes the path of least-resistance only feels easier because, you know what? You’re good at it. That’s your path. That’s your thing. Don’t spend your whole life battling against who you are. You are an anxious (likely introverted, like me) person with a heart and you are not made of stone. You don’t need to work anywhere where you have to pretend to be.
Perhaps one never seems so much at one’s ease as when one has to play a part.Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray