How my anxiety got the best of me but won't again

Photograph by Thais Ramos Varela


If I had a nickel for every time my boyfriend furrowed his brow, looked at me in utter confusion, then said, “Why are you worrying about that? How did your mind even get there…?” I’d be rich! Really, though, the amount I worry and stress over seemingly inconsequential things, possibilities that would only happen on a frozen tundra in some far off universe, can be both nauseating and paralyzing.  And although both men and women experience anxiety—after all, we’re all human with our own unique genetic code of our own predispositions—women statistically are far more anxious than men in the day-to-day. There are countless reasons for this, but one that is blatantly obvious to many, many women in the workforce and not obvious enough to many of our male counterparts is how our position as women in a historically men’s world has us trying to get our footing just right on this slippery slope of corporate success. And what goes more unnoticed and is possibly even less acknowledged in the male-dominated corporate environment is how this climate conditions women to self-doubt and even question the opinions and work of other working women- even outside the office. Obviously, this is not the case for every woman, but rather it is a result experienced by many women who have been conditioned to put more trust in men’s work over that of their own demographic.

This is a long-winded (though, not long enough because this is a tangled and complex issue that desperately needs to be addressed) way of saying that my constant worrying about the “what ifs” and “buts” is a common part of the female ethos, one that makes up so much a part of our social and political identity it’s difficult at times to even identify a separate sense of self, and one that has the grim potential to make us question our own abilities and ideas to the point of self-sabotaging.

In my own career history, I remember looking up average salaries in New York for my previous position and was shocked to see how much more I should have been making according to Glassdoor. At first, I was angry, but I then decided to just “stick with it” for a few more months and ask for a raise at my next performance review.  At the time, that seemed like the most reasonable tactic for an employee to take, one that wouldn’t put my employer at too much of an imposition- something I feared doing. When I confidently told my boyfriend about this plan, his immediate response was, “You should speak to them tomorrow, don’t wait.” I was annoyed that he’d criticized the cool-calm-and-collected plan I had set forth, as if it wasn’t good enough. And to make matters more nerve-racking, he suggested I ask for 10% more than what I initially planned to ask for. I was amazed at how casual he could be about even toying around with the idea of asking for what to me seemed like a fortune and not have any anxiety or hesitancy about me doing so; for him, that’s what I was entitled to and I should make my employers aware of this. But for me, this was a huge emotional undertaking that I had never confronted and one that felt wrong of me to even consider.

Unsurprisingly, I went through what felt like the nine circles of anxiety hell. I hadn’t even made up my mind about the next course of action, and I’d already started to get overheated and do this vigorous hair-twirling thing I do when I’m thinking about a million things at once.
Why was I so anxious about asking for something I was entitled to according to industry standards? Why did I feel it was absolutely necessary to make sure I came across as the most reasonable, controlled employee who is only sticking up for something she deserves? The answers are obvious, of course.

Ultimately, I decided to leave the company to pursue a freelance writing and editing career (which is where a sizable chunk of my career interests lie, anyway), but I regret not taking the opportunity to ask for more before I left- if for no other reason than I would have been fighting for what I was entitled to and it would have been good practice for future positions if something similar were to happen. And I am positive the reason I didn’t speak up was because I was too anxious; anxious about coming across as demanding; anxious about being ungrateful; anxious about being fired for asking for more. Although I don’t regret leaving the company and pursuing opportunities more in line with my ultimate career goals--it was only a matter of time before I made that decision--I regret letting my anxiety get the best of me and sabotage what could have been a handful of months where I was paid what I should have been receiving all along. 


what i learned:

  1. Take time to reflect about what you want and where you see yourself in the present and how that relates to the future; these are very important steps to take for success, both personal and entrepreneurial.
  2. Strive for acknowledgement for your work, ideas, and opinions.
  3. Help other women achieve their own success. 
  4. Prioritize listening to yourself and silencing internal voices of self-doubt. It’s a difficult muscle to use--one that needs a lot of practice--but that’s the only way to become comfortable making space for yourself in any industry.

Want to hear more from Sara? Check out her work on Contently.