What anxiety taught me
Last year, I met a dream job, our meeting was an experience itself. First a phone call, then a dinner meeting which led to the interview that was more a learning moment than a barrage of questions and answers. You see the CEO was first a teacher, then a product champion and it was my job to be both in capacities that were within and outside my comfort zone; way way outside my comfort zone.
I did not know this until I was asked to plan a party. A party sounds fun, if you’re not a socially awkward introvert, who hates loud music, can’t function in a roomful of people and lots of noise and absolutely has NO CLUE, what goes on behind the scenes of a basic soiree. This party took me to the market (people), made me talk to rental businesses (more people), beg my new colleagues to come through (more people) and do more last minute runs with vendors around the office (more people), I ran and rallied till 11pm and I still forgot to get ice for cocktails. So yes, this was a dream job that had a culture of throwing you into the deep end, your first task is to learn how to swim.
The next 9 months launched me into parts of Nigeria I never thought of visiting. I met women that led teams and sat with the highest echelons of government, I learnt how to pacify, take nos, wake up at 3am, go to sleep with one eye open, navigate budgets at 10pm and hustle to get 5000 fliers printed at midnight. Words like relationship management will be something I had to actively learn in motion, because it was something that was required for my job. I learnt to be OK with crying in front of 10 people without feeling out of place. I learnt how anxiety could be so somatic, I would tell my colleague “my head is ringing and I fear it would explode” and he would look on in a helpless kind of sympathy. When you strain yourself to the extent to which your capacity can carry, two things happen. One, learn coping mechanisms, two, react aka crash and burn.
“Aanu, your DND is turned on…turn it off..Aanu, what’s going on…Aanu, you need to learn how to do this better, Aanu what’s going on with…Aanu why are you calling me at…Aanu…Aanu…” To respond to this honestly, will be to say, I turned it off because listening to you magnifies everything that went wrong today and I need to hide, even if for a couple of hours. What’s going on is I am confused and I am scared that I will soon be found out and fired. Of course I couldn’t say this out loud so I reacted, became super passive aggressive, took on the role of being the failure of the group and looked for all the ways I could be small and invincible. The thing is, while the company was big, it wasn’t that big and I am 6ft tall. Nine months later, I tearily resigned.
It’s been 8 months since I turned in my passwords, work tools and bade my goodbyes to my work besties. At the beginning it seemed like a worthy alternative, my new job was a raise, I got home at 6pm, my weekends were MY weekends and I had more room to write and be more present with myself. But, as with anything that is left unresolved, I kept looking back to figure out the one question that hovered over every decision I made since then, “what went wrong?”
I did not advocate for myself. Advocacy is loosely defined as the public support or recommendation of a cause. I did not know that I was a cause I needed to actively take up and champion. In my silence, in my avoidance, in the minimization of all my experiences, I left my cause behind. In picking myself up, a lot of work had to be done in validating the value I had to offer, I had to be reminded of why I was hired in the first place and why my uniqueness is an advantage to each role I occupy. The journey to this insight is a dynamic one, for some, having people affirm this creates it -this insight- for others little wins do the trick. I would then find out I needed both.
First the mental work, next the vocalization. Here’s my relationship with conversation, I need it to be brief, I need it to be meaningful and I need it to be intentional. I’m a marketer, so everyday is a balancing act between my personality and my job requirements. This time, I knew I had to get over myself and learn how to use sentences like “what do you mean? Could you re-frame that? I don’t understand this…” this Friday, I sent an email saying “ quick follow up to our conversation, I don’t think this would work and this is why”. This was an important shift for me because my primary motive in any conversation is figuring out the fastest way to end it, so I often “OK” and “got it” to action points I know might not work. By responding with an email, I reduced the physical contact and still relayed my message.
Perceived isolation, the idea that you’re the only one experiencing that unique event so that no one can understand, empathize or proffer a solution. I have praised work allies who at the time, dragged me to sit at the table with them. In retrospect, these are people I should have been more open and vulnerable with, about my experience. To be clear, I am saying that there was help, but in my minimization, I didn’t think my issue was worthy of being another person’s burden. If you can relate to this, please validate your experience enough to demand help. There is always one person that will listen. I promise, I promise.
So, where am I now? I am in a place that is intentional about self- learning. I am keen on pulling out meaning from each day, I am insisting on the “Yeses” that will bring me joy. I bought a dream book. There, I think out loud, I vent, I sit with my day and sort out each thread of anxiety that came in and ask them why. I do not ignore them. I have claimed responsibility for my peace and I own every requirement it demands from me. From this experience, I know that I want to be who I needed in 2018 and I am rerouting my steps to take me there.