“We are anxious because we do not know what roles to pursue, what principles for action to believe in. Our individual anxiety, somewhat like that of the nation, is a basic confusion and bewilderment about where we are going.” – Rollo May
Anxiety is a funny thing; until it isn’t. Everyone feels anxiety at some point in their lives. It is an emotion that runs along a dimensional scale, and most of the time it doesn’t cause too much of a problem for most people. We feel it, we take a breath, we figure out a way to cope with it. We at least have some idea of what to expect from it.
We know it is something that will come and go. It might show up as a series of panic attacks. Maybe there is a reason for it, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and sometimes there isn’t. It just shows up for no real reason we can see, and hangs around as a general feeling of impending doom. Sometimes it is purely situational.
We know certain situations cause us anxiety. It is not usually considered a “disorder” until it becomes a disruptive force in our lives that prevents us from doing the things we enjoy, or prevents us from doing things we know we have to do as part of life. Situations may cause us discomfort, cause us anxiety, but we still deal with them.
When I think of anxiety as a disorder I think of some of the symptoms my mother had. Generalized Anxiety Disorder does run in my family, but I myself never experienced weeks on end of general feelings of impending doom. She would sit and chain smoke cigarettes, and imagine all sorts of things about to go wrong, because of this feeling.
She was on medications for it; and when my fiance was killed, she thought I should be on medications too. I said no; I felt like my emotions were totally appropriate to the situation so I dealt with it through writing and exercise rather than pharmaceuticals. She was on Prozac for over forty years; I have never taken so much as a single dose.
I was nervous when speaking in front of crowds of people but never to such a degree that I couldn’t do it. I was never one to get physically sick over it. I was never one to have panic attacks over public speaking. I got up in front of the crowd, said what I had to say, shaking the whole time, but I did it. Then I sat down and let the anxiety pass.
Once I had a panic attack. It involved a relative who was stuck to a storm drain after removing some debris during a category 3 hurricane in South Florida. They tell you to never clear debris from storm drains during hurricanes because you run the risk of drowning. As the relative put it, floods cause a risk of drowning too.
I pulled the relative off the drain then I went inside and had myself my first and only full-blown panic attack and swore I would never ever do that again so long as I lived. It is because of that experience that I understand how miserable anxiety can be for people who suffer it chronically as a disorder. I consider myself lucky it is not disorder level.
But that does not mean that situational anxiety cannot cause a major problem in one’s life. Certain situations do cause me major anxiety. Just about all things medical for instance; I get anxious about doctors and hospitals, and phobic about needles and I.V.s. This was likely due to an outpatient surgery when I was 5 years old.
Lately it would seem I have developed a new major anxiety causing situation; job interviews. I thought at first that it was just because I had not been on one in a few years, that maybe I was out of practice. They were always a source of nervousness but never to the level they have been lately. I had one a few months back I got panicky in.
I thought it was probably because I knew very little about the job industry itself so I didn’t really know what to expect in terms of performance expectations. I realized during that interview I was speaking too rapidly, over-explaining, and started to feel a bit like a bobble-head, and by the end of it, I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
I was not surprised I didn’t get hired for that job. I probably came across as a terrified idiot. I wouldn’t have hired me either. I had others that weren’t quite as bad, so I thought I was getting a bit of a handle on it; and then I had one this past week. This job would have been a bit of a game changer for me; great company, real potential for a career.
I wasn’t sure what specific position I was interviewing for; I was networking into this company; no job description involved. I interviewed with a couple of very nice ladies, one a manager for the department and one a team lead; and yet I still hit panic mode. I talked way too fast, probably said too much, talked right over them.
I couldn’t seem to shut my own damn mouth and keep it shut. I could not believe how absolutely rude I was being. I was trying to concentrate on the one manager, trying to actively listen to her. I feel like I was absorbing what both of them were saying despite my sudden inability to control my own mouth, but I know I offended the other woman.
She had no problem showing me what active listening sounds like, while frowning and folding her arms over her chest. I have never been so embarrassed in my life and I absolutely deserved to be. Three days later, I am still mortally embarrassed. There was no reason for me to behave like I had no manners. Yet there I was, behaving like an idiot.
On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being an Apocalyptic level Failure…this interview was at least a 7. I’d rate the one a few months back a 9 so there is at least some improvement since then, but there has to be more than just being prepared for interview questions, knowledge of the company, and bringing your own questions to the table.
I was trying to practice the whole mindfulness thing…yeah that may not be a good strategy for this level of anxiety. I was wholly in the moment, fat lot of good it did me. Maybe Rollo May is right, we are anxious because we do not know what roles to pursue, I suddenly wasn’t sure of anything, I felt like if I stopped talking I might stop breathing.
What principles for action are we to believe in exactly? I wasn’t applying to be an executive; but I felt compelled to speak up and keep on speaking like I was trying to demonstrate some sort of leadership quality. The position I was interviewing for called for patience and active listening; good communication skills, not rudeness.
I felt compelled to keep speaking as though if I fell silent, I might give the impression of being dull and stupid. Like I knew I was competing with other candidates and had to do anything and everything to try to edge them out, jump on that elevator speech and run with it at all costs. It’s a dog and pony show; produce your pedigrees! do your tricks!
Our individual anxiety, … is a basic confusion and bewilderment about where we are going. And that is what navigating the mountain ranges of job search and interviewing advice on all of these sites is like. Confusion and bewilderment; you might be looking for a job or a career, but it doesn’t feel like it; not these days.
It feels more like being trotted around at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show or the Royal Windsor horse show. We have to be Best in Show, First Place. Or we get nowhere. Worse, because we are talking about livelihoods, resources, a very real potential for homelessness. Hey no pressure, right?
So what can I do to alleviate the anxiety enough that I can behave like a competent, confident, polite, and well-mannered, non-mentally ill person during a job interview? I have a few ideas; keep using the mindfulness; it made me aware of what I was doing wrong in that moment, even if it did nothing to help me control the anxiety itself.
Practice interviews by the way don’t really work. My brain knows its practice and so the anxiety does not tend to rise. One suggestion a friend made is to interview for jobs I know I don’t want, but I am not comfortable with that idea. Interviews have hidden costs to employers; time and labor resources for instance.
It seems selfish to waste someone’s time and labor costs when I am only interviewing to face an anxiety problem. I think there are probably better ways of dealing with this kind of anxiety at any rate. Writing tends to help, hence this post, they say in the job search literature to never advertise your weaknesses. It can turn employers off.
Well more and more I am beginning to believe that a lot of this career search advice is bull crap. I am not a Poodle. I am not a Shar Pei; I am not a Quarter horse or a Tennessee Walking horse either. I am human being, I have weaknesses, I also have strengths, and one of them is that when I fail, and I feel like a laughing-stock, I don’t go away defeated.
I pick myself up, I brush myself off, I look at what went wrong. I don’t blame anybody else but myself. I take the responsibility because it is mine. I look for what I can do to resolve the problem. Anxiety is not a one-size-fits-all problem, so a one-size-fits-all solution may not be what is needed. I just need to find what will work for me.
I am going to make an exercise schedule and stick with it; I read something somewhere about exercise being a good strategy for dealing with anxiety in general and I was always trying to get my mother to do more for exercise. I could definitely stand to follow my own advice on the subject of exercise.
I am also going to make sure I exercise before job interviews and see if that mitigates the anxiety enough for me to keep my mouth shut and behave like I was raised properly. I am also going to take a closer look at some of this career search advice; some of it really needs to be called into question, some of it needs to be challenged.
But that is a subject for another post.