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Unsupportable Anxiety.

25 August 2015

I’ve been talking with a friend in the program a lot lately about anxiety. Like me, my friend suffers from anxiety that seems focusless and unrooted. It lingers in the air around us and seems to inveigle itself into whatever local phenomena we’re currently preoccupied with and become an entrenched participant. In my case, my house, the stock market, my job. Anxiety about all of it is constant, but I manage to keep it at bay with tools from the program and with exercise.

Today I have a couple of anxiety-producing activities. I have my annual review (which will determine my raise this year, though I feel pretty confident it will be between 2.9%-3.4% and where it falls in that range is not materially impactful). And I have a phone call with a lab director at the big fancy medschool I’m interviewing with for a professorship I probably don’t want. I’m very nervous about both.

And so let’s look at that: why am I nervous? There’s really nothing at stake in either case. My department is very good about annual reviews. Nothing is a surprise. If there were a problem with my performance, I would know it by now. I’ve been highly praised at every turn. There is simply no chance that I’ll be given a bad mark. I may not get what I’m hoping for, but I won’t be admonished for poor performance. And if I go in to the review looking for ways to improve, I’ll take any criticisms in stride.

The interview with the lab director is similar. This is someone who does systems research on a topic that interests me. A topic I’ve contributed to in the literature. I will have interesting things to say, and a lot to learn. There’s not really anything at stake. If I make an ass of myself, well, I don’t get a job I probably don’t want anyway. That’s not a real problem. I want them to want me, but I don’t think I’m in a position to change employers unless they offer me something truly magnificent.

Really, what I kind of want is to be able to look my employer in the eye and say, “One of the world’s most prestigious medical colleges just offered me a job being a professor. I’d like to make sure that if I tell them no, we have the same vision for what I expect out of my career here at MECMC.” And then use that leverage to build my vision here.

So, I get anxious about things very easily, in a miasmic, nebulous kind of way that interferes with my abilities to focus and function. So I work my program at it. And I exercise. And I try to make tangible progress on my career and relationship and life. And counting all those tangible things makes a positive impact on my psyche. And I can learn to relax. A little.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 25 August 2015 09:01

    I sometimes find my anxious about things. A project review meeting… where I’m but one cog in the project mechanism and then often not a major one… etc. so you get all this anxiety over something that really doesn’t matter or where if I look back I’ve never completely screwed up and so what if I do? Everyone makes a mistake here and there.

    The review one is interesting – largely there is nothing you can do to change it is there. You’ve done the year already so it is what it is…. PS as an employee in the UK academic system I’d kill for a 2-3% payrise, we have had 0 or 1% ever since I joined here four years ago.

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