Anxiety Under the Mask of Tech Consulting

I’ve had this post in my head for years. It’s been drafted and subsequently discarded multiple times. It’s ranged in length from multiple pages to a short paragraph. It’s evolved along with my life and experiences, but it’s still the same core message and still the same goal, and even an edit of the same draft almost-but-not-quite-posted months ago.

Why post something about this? To acknowledge and reassure the silent but numerous business professionals who fight their way through each day with that constant feeling of dread and worry — replaying each and every conversation and action from days long gone to future events that may never even happen.

Anxiety. Real anxiety — not the one that comes before an important meeting or a job interview — but the often ridiculous and mundane worries that interfere with life. Worries that turn into catastrophes in your mind. I can catastrophize a poorly worded email into seeing a future where I’ve lost my job and my family is on the streets, scouring for food to survive because I blew it by using the wrong synonym. I’ve lived with it for all of my life (the anxiety, not the scouring for food), as has much of my family (again, not the scouring for food), all because I had a few unlucky genes.

This is how we live. Like anything else, you get better at masking it to others. In the world of consulting, your goal is to mask it. After over a decade of working in the professional consulting field, I’ve been through enough similar experiences to be aware of the effect anxiety has on my daily work life and plan accordingly. While I can’t make it go away, I can prepare for the inevitable mental and physical drain — and even use it to my advantage.

Anxiety makes you great at avoiding risk. Like a machine learning algorithm running on the computer equivalent of the human mind, I’ll run future and past scenarios in my head over and over until the best action is presented. Every word, every negative reaction, every pause, every non-action, every what-if — all analyzed and over-analyzed subconsciously. Without this, there’s no doubt that I would be less successful in my work. With it, I’m exhausted. Anxiety — a double edged sword.

It’s hard (borderline impossible) to explain this concept to others. I’ve had performance reviews in the past telling me to stop worrying; stop stressing out. The feedback served its purpose, but the more useful feedback here would have been, ‘Stop showing your stress in front of your team.’

But that’s not the goal of this post. There’s a wealth of resources out there doing a much, much better job than I can. What I want to do is silently recognize others in a situation like myself. It’s common in our field, but still stigmatized (though changing). I just want to say — ‘I get it’.

Fight through your day, but know you aren’t the odd one out. Don’t use your ailment as an excuse — but ask others for help when you know you’ve hit your limit. Surround yourself with good people, both in life and at work. Stop searching for a cure-all, which can only lead to becoming an addict, alcoholic, or a Buddhist monk in the mountains of Nepal. Grand pivots, like quitting your job to become an English teacher in Japan, aren’t always the ultimate answer, but frequent distractions often are. Know yourself; trust your gut — not the overworked mind that keeps trying to trip you up.

You aren’t alone out there.