Sunday, February 9, 2020

Overcoming Professional Performance Anxiety

Over the last decade, I've met and worked with hundreds of people. I've participated in local events, made friends with industry leaders through Facebook and Twitter, and impressed my work colleagues with my tech savvy and know-how.

I'm also an Introverted perfectionist with generalized, social anxiety. People I perceive as having any kind of authority intimidate me. While I still approach them with the utmost respect, it took a long time for me to loosen up around my current bosses (and their bosses).

I didn't come into this career with a lot of strong interpersonal skills -- like any skill, they had to be learned and practiced. Becoming a parent and working with young kids helped me develop other skills around empathy and communication in ways that I couldn't have predicted.

Some days are easier than others. I'm very good at being a duck: appearing calm and collected on the surface while paddling like crazy underneath. I've learned what things I can let go of and not take as seriously. When things go wrong, I approach the situation with my usual dry humor and say, "Thank you for your patience."

— And then there was the day at clinic when two massage tables broke down moments before we were due to take clients in to their sessions. It happens. It wasn't pretty in the moment, but we got through it and I got over it. The world did not come to an end, the school didn't close down or fire me, and the clients were likely none the wiser.

So what do you do when anxiety hits in-the-moment?

● Take some deep breaths. Drink some water. Clear yourself, if you're energetically inclined.

● Have a conversation. Build a relationship. Don't worry about making a sale or trying to impress every single person you come into contact with. Accept that you will connect with some people more easily than others; you're not going to be everyone's cup of tea (or coffee, or hot cocoa, etc.).

● Remember that when you're meeting prospective students and clients, they're probably more intimidated by you than you are of them. Think back to when you were in their shoes. What would you say to your past-self in encouragement?

● Remember your why: why did you choose this career path? Why did you say "yes" to this specific program? What did you envision at the end of your training? What does that professional-version of you look like? (A la Gramma Tala from Moana: "Who are you meant to be?")

● Call upon those pieces of you; bring in those characteristics. Square your shoulders and stand a little taller.

● Know that "Imposter Syndrome" is a valid fear -- that feeling of being a fraud in spite of everything you've accomplished thus far.

● Accept that you will make mistakes.

● And then push through it, anyway. It takes courage to stand up and put yourself out there. Each time you push through the discomfort and come out the other side, it gets easier.

"Fake it 'til you make it!" and "be yourself!" are cliches, but there is truth to them, making them effective strategies. You will stumble and struggle. Some tears may be shed. You are a real person with very big feelings and that's okay -- it's what makes you relatable, and that's what others are looking for.

Even professionals get anxiety. Even professionals make mistakes. Know that the best ones will see you, empathize with you, and encourage you to keep going.

"Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!"

- Ms. Frizzle, the Magic School Bus