Or what to do when you have anxiety around work, don’t know what you want to be when your are older and you are, in fact, in your mid forties.
My work history has been a mixed bag. Got my first Saturday job at about the age of 17, working in an awful discount clothes shop in Macclesfield putting price tags on floral dresses and shiny trousers. I hated it and didn’t last long. During my A Levels I was an office cleaner, I loved that job. Couple of hours every night after college I cleaned the offices of a packaging manufacturer on an industrial estate and got paid quite well for an 18 year old student. I made sandwiches and washed up at a pub for a while on Sundays, I was a chambermaid at a hotel for a few months during my gap year and I folded t-shirts in a factory one hot and sweaty summer.
I spent the summer of my gap year working for Manchester Youth Theatre as a Stage Manager and I got the theatre bug and was desperate to get into a drama school to train to be a stage manager. Unfortunately none of them would have me so I decided that TV might be a better place to try and was accepted on a course in the glamorous town of Ashington, Northumberland. I survived 2 years of chip stotties and long bus journeys to Newcastle to dance on the Tuxedo Royale’s revolving dance floor and ended up back home trying to get a job and start my so called career (because that’s what you are supposed to do isn’t it).
Finally in February 1996 I was offered a job at a TV studio in London and there started my journey into proper work and leaving home. You’ll recall in a previous post I said I used to listen to Phillip Schofield every Sunday on the radio and I was a HUGE fan as a teenager. So imagine my joy when the first show I worked on was Talking Telephone Numbers (remember that?…no? ). Over 8 years I worked my way up the greasy media pole never really staying anywhere longer than a couple of years. In 2004 I found myself at the BBC, working at the famous television centre, which as a teenager I dreamt about visiting to see Philip Schofield in his broom cupboard. (I am wondering if my desire to work in TV was only due to Mr Schofield). At that point I also realised that I’d had enough of the TV world and wanted a change. For some reason I decided I’d try to get a job in a local school, “It’ll be easy” I thought “a nice little office manager job in school somewhere closer to home”. Amazingly the second school I applied to offered me a job. Imagine my shock when I actually started working there and realised working in a school was not the nice easy office job I had imagined…..My whole experience in schools is a separate blog in itself so I won’t go into full details here. Suffice to say I have been working in schools now for nearly 13 years and it’s stressful, chaotic, emotional, fun and the sense of teamwork is immense but nothing like I could ever have imagined.
I had worked in the same school for 8 years and last summer felt like I had done all I could there and needed a change. What sort of change I wasn’t sure but I knew the first step I needed to take was to just get a job somewhere else and make that leap into a new environment. I got myself a new job starting in May this year and went through every emotion during the last few weeks in my old job and then once I’d started the new job I went through every other emotion that was left in the world. It’s still very much up and down and to be honest starting this blog is a way for me to explore new possibilities outside of a 9-5 job. Everyone told me I was really brave leaving after a long time in one place and I didn’t really think I was. But now I realise I could have taken the easy option and stayed at the place where I knew everything and everyone inside out and was close to home and the kids school and where I had some amazing friendships but I didn’t and I would be lying if I didn’t say there had been days since I left that I thought “what the hell have I done?” But it’s still early days and we’ll see what happens next.
In the 21 years of full time work as a grown up I have to say the majority of the jobs I’ve had I haven’t really enjoyed and have had all sorts of anxieties and terrible sleepless nights over. I was reading this article the other day and realise I can relate to a lot of these things http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/charles-benayon-/how-to-help-employees-suffering-from-social-anxiety-disorder_a_23059751/ I think it’s really important for people to be more open about these feelings and anxieties if they have them. In writing this I am obviously hoping for people to say “oh yes I feel like that too” so I know it’s not just me!
I know going to work makes me anxious and the easy option (mentally) would be to give up work and stay at home but then there’s bills to pay, I know I’d be bored eventually and also would hate not having my own money! I also wonder what the impact is on relationships when you are relying on one person in the household to earn the money. I imagine that work will be in my life in some form until I retire so I need to find ways to cope when I am struggling and look at my mindset in relation to work. A lot of the time I feel I have to bluff my way in situations and at times I put on a front which can be hugely draining and mentally exhausting.
I quite often feel like I wish I didn’t have to work but these feelings don’t come from a place of laziness. I like being busy and I like the idea of having tasks to complete by a certain time that make a difference to other people or improve things. My desire to give it up comes from a place of feeling “safe” at home in my own environment or with close friends and family. Away from the possibility that I may mess something up at work and be put on the spot about it or that I have to deal with office politics. That someone might be horrible to me or make me feel like shit.
Here are some examples of what makes me anxious at work (there are more):
Public speaking I’ve had to present to all staff on occasion or run training sessions for groups of staff. I am going to say now, my name is Andrea and I HATE doing this. In 3 weeks time I will be standing up in front of 200 staff to train them on an INSET day, even scarier is they are 200 staff of whom I don’t know very well. I wish I could just say “you know what, I really don’t want to do this” but I can’t.
Being put on the spot and not being able to answer a question immediately, I get really flustered and then feel like an idiot. Why? I have no idea.
Making mistakes This is pretty common I am sure but I live in a permanent state of anxiety that something I have done (or not done) will cause a problem and I’ll get into trouble. Really what is the worst that can happen? Being sacked I suppose, but working in HR I know full well how bloody hard it is to get rid of people!
Leaving speeches Yes these actually make me anxious. Those of you who work in a school know the regular torture of end of term leaving speeches in the hall. Nowhere else I’ve worked before schools did this because people left throughout the year. Whilst I know it’s important to recognise the work someone has done and give them an opportunity to say goodbye I find these so uncomfortable. You never know if someone is going to say something horrible and use it as an opportunity to get stuff off their chest or if someone is going to give a history of their working life from 1975 onward, (this may or may not be based on a real life experience…..)
There has been one period (in my last workplace between 2012 until last year) where I enjoyed going to work, hardly ever got Sunday night blues and when people used to ask me “how’s work?” I would mostly say “yeah it’s really good thanks”. I honestly had never done that before and really meant it. Even though during that time I had to deal with some of the most stressful and shitty situations, I had a support network (some friends for life now), people who believed in me and valued my work and the confidence that I knew what I was doing most of the time. It made such a big difference and it was only then that I realised I had never really had this much in the past.
Everything I have written about so far is why I am so passionate about well being at work, people need to want to come to work and feel valued otherwise they just aren’t going to invest their energy into a place.. A lot of this comes from the people who are “leading” and it’s so important to get this right, it all filters down and if the leaders and managers don’t value their staff their staff won’t value their work and are likely to be unhappy and in some cases get sick.
A few weeks ago I was chatting to one of my new colleagues and she told me she’d cried all the way home one night the week before. I told her I had done exactly the same. We high-fived each other. Not because we were like “yeah, work made us cry” but more because it was like “thank god someone else is honest about this and feels the same”.
It can be so easy to look around you at work and think that everyone else knows exactly what they’re doing and doesn’t get phased by things. When you feel completely overwhelmed and on the verge of tears but don’t have anyone to go to. But if you actually talk to people you trust you’ll find this simply isn’t the case. People in all sorts of roles feel like they’re winging it a lot of the time and playing pretend grown up. What we need to do is all be a bit more honest with each other. This is a poster I saw Twitter that was being used in an organisation.
I adapted it for my last school and tried to embed a lot of it in the culture, it’s not easy as everyone has different values and different views on some of these points. But I think the crux of it is it’s OK to not always know what you’re doing (well maybe if you’re a brain surgeon it’s quite important….) but you know what I mean. It’s OK to be honest and say you’re not coping and need a moment or need help. I’ve seen really experienced people who everyone thinks has their shit together, break down when things have got too much. I really believe that a lot of the awful office politics that exist in workplaces comes from a place of low self esteem and that feeling that you’re winging it and everyone else knows what they are doing. Attack someone before you’re found out to be useless, that kind of thing. Let’s all be a bit kinder to each other at work and realise a lot of us are all in the same boat. Begone nasty office gossip and judgement, make cups of tea not war.
I also think that we need to be mindful that not everyone is into career progression or becoming a leader and that not everyone can cope with stress or pressure and you are not a failure if you find these things difficult. I used to work with someone who had been in the same job for years, she wasn’t interested in more senior roles and she was brilliant at her job. But she was happy just doing what she did and doing it well. There’s always so much pressure, of developing and showing how you are developing, but maybe some people just don’t want to develop and don’t need that in their lives.
So, I’m 43 and work makes me anxious and I still don’t really know what I want to do when I grow up. If any of you are on Instagram and follow Candice Braithwaite (https://www.candicebrathwaite.com/blog/), you may be a regular viewer of her Tea Time Insta-stories. She did a brilliant one a couple of weeks ago where she talked about your purpose in life. She believes we are all born with a purpose and as kids the things we love doing are linked to this. It’s only as we get older we might forget those things and go down different paths but she says if you are at a point in your life where you aren’t quite sure what you should be doing, think back to when you were a child and what you loved doing and think about how you can incorporate that in your life now. I used to love writing stories, I remember many a holiday sat on a sun lounger with a pad and pencil writing. But somehow that didn’t become a passion. Maybe I didn’t have particularly inspiring English teachers and I didn’t get great grades in GCSE English so I guess I didn’t think I was any good at it so I didn’t pursue it. I’ve realised I want to try it out now and see where it takes me……there’s always office cleaning to fall back on I suppose.