In part 1 of this article, I discussed how my job managing automation projects changed from just being stressful into causing severe anxiety and profound dissatisfaction. Work anxiety is the feeling of dread, apprehension, deep, objectless unpleasantness or dissatisfaction, and even neurotic fear in our working lives, that remains after we’ve ruled out the work stressors caused by pressure, conflict, frustration and change.
Perhaps the best thing we can do is support each other along the path toward an authentic working life. (Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com)
It was deep immersion in my high-risk hobbies that helped me cope with my own anxiety until that no longer worked and I had to find my own path toward an authentic working life. Now, my working life is focused on helping others build an authentic working life and create thriving organizations. Although the details of everyone’s path toward an authentic working life are always different, there are some similarities.
path 1: double-down
One way to tolerate anxiety is to give meaning or purpose to our anxiety. To do this, we must convince ourselves that the work that we are currently doing has some purpose that makes suffering through the anxiety worth it. Many people make conscious decisions to persevere in a job they hate because it enables them to save for their children’s education, provides a high income that will quickly pay off their mortgage, or provides valuable experience that will help them get a better job in the future. Whatever the reason, the only thing that matters is that it’s a good enough reason to endure the pain.
The term double-down comes from the card game, Blackjack. A double-down allows you to drastically increase your bet (double it) with the agreement that you only get one more card (a last chance). By taking the double-down path to address work anxiety, we’re saying, “I’m going to increase my emotional investment in my current working life with the hope that the new meaning I give it might finally reduce my anxiety.”
path 2: move-around
Doing a new job in our current organization, or changing to a new organization, seems to help. Some people make an even bigger change by retraining for an entirely new occupation. When moving around the world of work in this way, we have the belief that our problems are created by an organization or a person other than ourselves. We also might believe that one job, or especially one organization, is actually better than others, and not just for us but better for everyone.
path 3: get-down
When I couldn’t find meaning in my suffering, and after I’d done many different jobs in many organizations, I was left thinking that there was no job or organization out there that was right for me. And worst of all, the distraction that my high-risk hobbies had provided vanished after I came too close to death while mountaineering in Peru. I was at a low point. A low point where I saw all work as equally meaningful and equally meaningless. But it’s getting down to those dark places that enables us to see the faintest glimmer of light.
It’s in those quiet places, without the noise from ourselves and everyone else telling us what we should do, where we can finally hear ourselves caring about the work we still really want to do. And it’s in that place that I discovered my own authentic working life. Although how I did it is a story too long for a blog, it is a story that’s helped me help others in their own journey and helped people build thriving organizations.
non-judgemental acceptance of the path
The get-down worked for me, but the double-down and move-around also work for many people. And although they are called different things, the double-down and move-around are well documented approaches to resolving work dissatisfaction. But the only thing that worked for me, the get-down, is a tough, lonely and poorly understood path.
Regardless of our path, perhaps the best thing we can do is to not judge the path that each of us take and just support each other along the way.