While I was job hunting, a hiring manager sent me a list of questions to fill out and send back before advancing to the third round of interviews. One of the questions stood out to me: “This job will require a great deal of organization and organizational thinking. What experiences have prepared you to think creatively about process-based solutions?”
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I mulled it over for a couple of days, racking my brain for the most authentic and best answer. Then I had it.
“I was an administrative assistant before I became a journalist,” I wrote. “I know how to work with challenging personalities and anticipate their needs. However — and I think this is more unique and important — I used to experience pretty bad anxiety. I’ve managed that problem now, and I’ve actually figured out how to channel it in a way that makes me more productive. A hallmark of anxiety is to think ahead and to worry about the future. I’m not worried anymore, but I still think about the future and the 1 million steps I need to take to make something happen.”
Being vulnerable in my answer actually helped me connect to the hiring manager in a deeper way. The day after I responded, he told me over the phone that he really appreciated my response about working through anxiety and that he could relate, especially in a deadline-driven working environment.
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I had developed an anxiety disorder in high school, suffered through college, and finally found help for it when I moved to New York City after graduation. Before I started going to therapy, my anxiety would come on suddenly.
I’d be with friends or family or just living my life, then the next moment, it was like I just bought a one-way ticket on the Anxiety Attack Train. Hours and days would pass in what felt like endless ruminating and worry. It sucked. And it was truly exhausting.
Then I found a therapist I liked named Barbara. I spoke to her once per week for about eight months, and this is what happened: Everything would be okay, then slowly, something would feel off. I’d start to feel a tiny bit irritable. I’d get the feeling that something was bothering me, but what was it?
“Why am I annoyed?” I’d ask myself. “I feel anxious,” I’d think. So I would slow down and think about exactly what was happening in the moment (I was laying in bed watching T.V., or a coworker had just made a weird comment).
And then I’d think to myself why that scenario was okay — why it was okay to just chill out in bed or why that remark didn’t really matter and wasn’t personal.
Therapy taught me how to talk to myself differently. Rather than suddenly feeling like I was on the Anxiety Train, I learned to recognize when I’m walking up to the station. Buying a ticket. Standing on the platform. Seeing the train pulling in. And finally, I could let the whole train pass, car after car, without ever getting on board.
At work, a little anxiety is a good thing. I have high standards, and a healthy level of pressure motivates me to meet them. And while fewer situations cause an actual anxiety attack, my personality is fundamentally anxious and a little neurotic — which I’m reminded of quite frequently.
For example, I recently vented to a close friend about a situation with a guy while we were out for lunch the day after my 29th birthday. I showed her a draft of the text I wanted to send to him.
“Fox, you have no chill,” she said, while stabbing her Caesar salad with one hand and deleting my text with the other. Then we cracked up, because it’s true and also okay that I don’t.
This is who I am: The Occasional Drafter Of A Disastrous Text. Overthinking is part of my personality. And my closest friends know and enjoy that about me.
Most importantly, I know that about me. I don’t always enjoy it, because, let’s be honest, going into a tailspin over something that’s outside of my control is emotionally exhausting. Like, I-could-sleep-for-12-hours-kind-of-exhausting. But it’s gotten a lot better and far easier to manage, so all the work it takes to make that possible is worth it to me.