Navigating work when you’re struggling with your mental health is tough. In episode 271, I received a question from an individual who was finding things difficult at work despite being in their dream job, struggling with anxiety, insomnia, and more, and fearing they will lose their job because of this. In this post, I dive into more detail and talk about why this isn’t a death sentence and offer my thoughts on how you can still set yourself up for success.
Hi Robert, love the pod! It’s been a part of my morning routine for months now and I find it a great way to start off the day. My question for you is about anxiety/insomnia and how it affects work. I finally landed a job as a bread baker with a small local bakery! 🙂 Everything’s so right with this job, the owners are kind and encouraging, my coworkers are fun, work/life balance is just as important to everyone as the success of the bakery. Despite the wonderful environment, I’m failing. I’m just making really small, stupid mistakes with expensive consequences. They were understanding at first, but I can tell I’m on borrowed time. I’m more anxious than I’ve been in a long time, my insomnia has been triggered by this and now my performance at work is even worse because I’m waking up 15 times a night just thinking about my failures at what I thought would be my dream job. It’s a cycle I don’t know how to stop. My therapist says it would help if I journaled more, and yeah sure I can calm down during my journaling session but I still feel like I’m drowning in my anxiety If you have any advice, I would appreciate it. I want to come back from this.
Awesome that you got that job. I know from the experience of friends that is not as chill and easy of a job as you’d think. I’m not sure if you are getting up super early to bake, but that’s often a brutal requirement. It’s also just a lot to manage and keep track of. So kudos to you. I have had thoughts of really enjoying the job as sort of a nice little quiet private job, but those were crushed by hearing how actually difficult the job can be.
It sounds like there are a few things going on here. It seems to me like this has become an issue in and of itself. Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, the anxiety about going to work is well-established, so it’s causing other issues like insomnia, or probably brain-farts when you are at work, that lead to the actual difficulties you were worried about in the first place. That’s tough, but not a death sentence. You aren’t stuck. I think it’s super important at a baseline level to recognize that this is just a job. It’s one job, possibly among many you will have. This is not the end all be all. It’s something that you wanted to succeed at and you very well may succeed, but it’s not do or die. It’s just a job.
Visualize the scenario
This is one of those situations where playing out the worst-case scenario all the way to its end can be helpful. What is the worst-case scenario in this situation? One is that you lose the job. Okay, well what if that happens? You will be disappointed, but you will also have gotten some practice and can adjust your expectations for what this kind of job is like. There are other baking jobs that you could find and it’s not like they have some shared blacklist of people and you will never be able to work in a bakery again. If you find out that the baking life just isn’t for you, that’s also valuable information that you would have never learned unless you gave it a shot.
Those are the WORST case scenarios here and those aren’t even that bad. Likely the real outcome is somewhere between rainbows and butterflies and the worst-case scenario. This is a good opportunity to use the downward arrow exercise. I’m wondering if your therapist thinks that more journaling would be beneficial because they are concerned you might be overinterpreting things. You said that you can “tell” you are on borrowed time. What does that mean? You could be right. Like if they literally told you that you need to get on track otherwise they will have to let you go, that’s one thing. If they didn’t, you might be letting your anxiety have fun with all the room for interpretation. Might be a good time to review the 10 common thinking traps in episode 211. If you haven’t listened recently, it might be a good time to also review episode 180 about sleep. Specifically focusing on a standard sleep routine and bringing things down a few notches prior to attempting to sleep might help you out quite a bit. The lack of sleep only compounds things for you, so let’s get that managed.
Growth vs. Performance mindset
I haven’t talked about growth vs performance mindset for a while, but I think it’s relevant here. Performance mindset is basically when you want to make sure you look good and are performing well in any particular snapshot. By contrast, growth mindset is less concerned with the way you look in the moment and more concerned with the trajectory of your growth. When someone embraces a growth mindset, they are willing to take risks, make mistakes, and do all of the things that are in service of their future growth. The alternative is trying to look like you know what you are doing or trying to please people.
Let’s assume that the perfect career for you is to become a baker. If that were the case, your goal should be to become the best baker that you can be and to discover the best way for you to practice baking. Your ultimate goal would not be to perform perfectly for this specific job. I’m not asking you to be a jerk about it, but you are FAR from being a jerk about it. But when it comes to the things that personally get to you, just remember that the goal is broader than this one specific experience.
I would advise you to communicate with them. It sounds like they are open and adaptable. Talk with them about your struggles and your fears. You don’t need to turn them into your therapists, but you could say something like, “I want to check in because I have made more mistakes recently than I am comfortable with. I am trying my best, but I think I’m so worried about losing this job that I’m getting too in my head about it all. Do you think that I will be able to improve enough to actually do this job well?” I have to imagine that this would actually make them be on your side about it all and get them thinking about the best ways to help you succeed. This is exactly where the growth vs performance mindset comes in. Performance mindset would make that interaction and their help embarrassing. Growth mindset would recognize that their interaction might be a super valuable part of your journey as a baker.
I’d encourage you to solicit feedback and ask them what are your most important areas to improve. There is a constructive way to go about this. You don’t need to just be a huge jerk to yourself and convince yourself that you failed a new endeavor you haven’t even given a fair shake yet. See if you can reframe this as an opportunity for learning. It’s an adventure. You are Frodo not Gandalf. This is your chance to figure out how to make the situation work for you rather than just storming in there and owning it from day one. There’s something kind of cool about that.
Sharpen your anxiety toolset
It sounds like anxiety may be a general issue for you. All good if that’s the case. I’d suggest you put a little effort into your anxiety coping strategies. Things like deep breathing, mindfulness, and watching out for your thinking traps. Obviously, I have a lot of resources for this. The cool part is sometimes when you are working on anxiety recovery, it’s all very abstract. You aren’t in a situation that is causing you anxiety, so you are conceptually trying to figure out how these things apply. In your case, you have a lot of grist for the mill. You are in a situation that requires you to engage in good coping. That will allow you to work THROUGH the situation rather than avoid it, which will serve you very well in the long run.
You haven’t done anything wrong. Just because you are struggling a bit does not mean that you are a bad person. Investing in yourself a bit here IS an investment in your work. Don’t forget that YOU are more important than the work and your aspirations are more important than this specific job. BUT I think there is an opportunity for you to get on track and make it work for you in the short term as well. It’s just time to start paying a little more attention to this, taking better care of yourself, and being humbled by the experience rather than just guilt-ridden. You got this!
You can listen to this on Episode 271 of the podcast!
Thank you for the great question!
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