Does Work Make You Nervous?
It’s wonderful to set your goals high, strive for perfection, break records, or make a discovery.
If your goals are high, it’s crucial to deal with frustration and anger. It’s vital to learn from mistakes and reposition your definition of perfection as a requirement for success. The closest you can get to perfection is learning to expect the unexpected. When you can “go with the flow,” you are in control—not operating from a rigid script. It’s those too-rigid scripts that cause emotion that turns into a temper tantrum of anxiety (more on that later).
Trust in being yourself. The more you learn this, the more you will be in control. The pursuit of perfection is a never-ending learning process. Fear of not being perfect kills creativity, which is crucial to high performance. Productive performers learn from mistakes. Any other thinking, especially that one should never make mistakes (and believe me, I have worked with many people who have this belief), is dysfunctional thinking. Who’s perfect? Nobody.
Perhaps nowhere is failure more visible than in sports competitions, where there is a clear winner and a clear loser. John Madden, the NFL’s most popular, now retired commentator, is legendary for his Yogi-isms: “If Dallas has more points at the end of this game, they are going to win.” How do athletes cope with failure? Take a lesson in letting go from the Tampa Bay Rays baseball team—well known for being the underdog winners of the 2008 American League Eastern Division Championship and winners of the American League Pennant, beating both the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. After a loss, the team would gather in the locker room for a 30-minute debriefing in which they looked closely at what (and who) went wrong. And then, after 30 minutes—they just let it go. On to the next game! This is an example of engaging the positive Critical Parent mind state.
"It’s wonderful to be involved in the pursuit of peak performance. It’s absurd to be paralyzed by fear of not being perfect."
Amy has a perfectionist streak that is both good and bad. She says: I see perfectionism in two ways: First, it is the reason I am successful at what I do. But it has also kept me from moving out of my comfort zone or even shooting for something I really wanted, but had no idea whether I could be good at. Writing sitcoms, for example. Or working for a big-time advertising agency. I am feeling anxiety symptoms right now just admitting to those long-ago dreams. I sometimes say that “I am so ambitious I can’t even leave the house.” What I mean is that I want to do big things and to do them so perfectly that I am afraid to even begin, to even step out into the world and try something. Listening to my internal critical script has, to a great extent, robbed me of the ability to dream big. It always seemed like the cost of failure would be devastating.
Amy is not alone in this. Many people with workplace anxiety don’t set their goals high enough because of the critical script that says “You are not capable,” “Why bother, you won’t succeed anyway,” “You are not worthy enough,” “Be very careful about what people think of you,” “Bad things will happen if you make a mistake,” “Avoid what makes you uncomfortable,” “Taking risks will screw you up,” or “You will regret trying.” These messages kill the learning process as well as one’s self-esteem. They breed frustration, resentment, and anger. Andrea began working as a temp for a luxury real estate agency and quickly demonstrated her ability to manage the marketing tasks at this exclusive firm. The owner offered her a permanent position; one year later, he let her know he was giving her a promotion to team leader. She took the news quietly, then went in to work the next morning and quit. “I couldn’t handle being in charge of other people,” she explained. “I was awake all night saying that I didn’t deserve the new job, that the other people in the department knew I was a fraud, that I had no right to try to tell other people what to do. It was too much. I didn’t want the promotion. Looking back, I can see that I really did want it. I just could not handle that internal critical script. It didn’t seem like it would ever go away, so I had to!”
Excerpted with permission of the publisher John Wiley & Sons, Inc.(www.wiley.com) from Work Makes Me Nervous: Overcome Anxiety and Build the Confidence to Succeed by Jonathan Berent and Amy Lemley Copyright (c) 2010 by Jonathan Berent
About the Authors:
Jonathan Berent, LCSW, and Amy Lemley are coauthors of Work Makes Me Nervous: Overcome Anxiety and Build the Confidence to Succeed (Wiley, September 2010) as well as Beyond Shyness: How to Conquer Social Anxieties.
Berent’s pioneering social anxiety treatment has helped thousands.
Lemley, who once suffered from workplace anxiety, is a freelance marketing copywriter and senior editor at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business. For more information, visit www.socialanxiety.com.