I wanted to take a little time today to share something I’m working on this week in my own life: having fewer emotional responses at work.
Work anxiety has sadly been one of the driving forces in my life for a while, and there’s really no reason for this to be the case. Aside from this being out of whack in terms of work-life balance, it’s not like I’m juggling the stresses of having my dream career. Like I’m guessing a lot of you, I don’t have the job of my dreams. Truth be told, I don’t tend to have dreams about economic opportunity. Heck, maybe that’s why I don’t have a job I love.
But I figured out something pretty important in light of all of this: I have to really mean it when I say I don’t give a fuck. How many times do we say we don’t give a fuck, and then we post great memes like, oh, I don’t know:
But all the while what we really mean is OH GOD SOMEHOW I STILL GIVE A FUCK WHY WON’T IT STOP.
I noticed something at work the other day: nothing was wrong, everything was fine, and I felt very chill – and my right hand was shaking uncontrollably. I was soaked in sweat. Nothing was wrong, and I was somehow having a straight-up anxiety attack.
I had really been trying to keep a lid on my anxiety at work, because my head believes that I don’t really care about any of these outcomes, but still somehow every day the panic sweat, the “oh fuck” under my breath, the tears at the corners of my eyes.
I spent a lot of time trying to train myself into having some theoretical ideal reaction to work stressors. But it wasn’t until I realized that no normal work situation is worth having an emotional reaction to that things started to turn around.
As far as advice goes, I know this basically sounds like “just don’t be anxious anymore,” and I’m sorry about that. But hopefully I can explain a little more.
It’s just a thought I’m trying to keep with myself: You don’t have to have an emotional response to this.
Seriously. No emotional response! You shouldn’t be teaching yourself to take unfair screaming criticism like a champ, you shouldn’t be looking for the silver lining in every rude customer interaction.
Just don’t respond. If making (x) or selling (y) or doing (z) has nothing to do with your self-concept, then don’t involve your emotional life! I have a feeling this is something our coworkers who cope better with the drudgery already know.
Just because you’ve been having an emotional response to something doesn’t mean you have to keep having an emotional response to it. Many of us have even come to believe that freaking out is a positive work characteristic demonstrating passion and dedication, but in point of fact, it’s not good for anything.
My number one tip? Try and see why you care. If you can’t identify the reason why you care about something, you don’t care about it.
I, for instance, often get worked up about rapidly changing work parameters and unclear expectations. But now I can ask myself: do I care? Is there any reason for me to be invested in doing this work task in any particular way? What’s that you say, you don’t care about this work task or its outcome? Then give in. Don’t make extra fights for yourself. If the end is meaningless, then so are the means.
My number two tip would be to let go of the idea that you should already be perfect at your job. Learning is a key component of pretty much every job, so you have to stop beating yourself up for not knowing everything already. Being willing to learn and grow will serve you better than getting defensive about a teaching or training moment.
Lastly – and I cannot say this enough – your ability to perform in capitalist America has nothing to do with who you are as a person (unless you want it to). Even if you’re a natural-born high achiever, you don’t have to be Captain Awesome of a shitty job you’d rather not be doing. Compliance isn’t a virtue, and in case you’re wondering, they don’t actually reward people for ripping their own guts out.
I want you to picture yourself 10 feet tall. I want you to think about the you that is way bigger than your job. The you you’re fighting for when you tell yourself you shouldn’t have to do this bullshit.
I know it’s a reach. Or maybe two. But I think maybe you can be that person all the time, and that’s how you cut through the bullshit.
Just try it. Try not to have an emotional response to that thing that always gets under your skin. Don’t try to have a better response, don’t try to smile. No response. It’s really gotten me to another place this week.