Not (Quite) Having a Meltdown

Stress
Credit: flickr / BrittneyBush

I’ve had a rough couple of weeks. I was told my work didn’t make a contribution, went through a rocky patch with my boyfriend, had loads of events for WISE, including one huge, never been done before one, had the whole job search and resume writing process, wrote a paper in just over a week, hurt my lower back trying to teach a small child to ski and aggravated my knee injury training.

Over the course of this, I’ve been trying to come up with something new and interesting to write on this blog 5 days a week. I often think of these ideas on the walk to school, and honestly, there have been days when I felt so strung out that what I wanted to write about was how I felt like I was having some kind of nervous breakdown, and how do you tell?

I haven’t. In part because I like to be positive here, but also because I had a job interview on Wednesday and I didn’t want that post going out the day I was Googled (yes, they checked out my website). But then I was looking at the posts that I’ve had featured on Brazen Careerist: there’s The Importance of Perspectives (where I admit that I’ve not been loving what I do lately), Dream Big or Go Home (where I admit to being afraid to fail) and Rediscovering Balance (where I write about last semester being miserable and needing to take a break from my life). Of course, I try and give these a positive spin, and focus on the things I’m learning from the experience. But is that the posts people find most useful/interesting? Not my tech-focused posts like this one on humans and developers, or this one on Facebook?

The truth is, that I take on a lot and want to bring 110% to everything I do, but ultimately sometimes I can’t bring 110% or I screw up and this devastates me. I set myself aggressive goals, challenge myself constantly and as a result I fail everyday. I feel like a failure a lot of the time, but I try to believe that I am only a failure if I stop trying.

So why have the last few weeks been so difficult? I’ve finally had some space to think and I think it’s not the volume, it’s the intensity; i.e. it’s not how much I’m trying to do, it’s how important the things happening right now are. Maybe this is normal as graduation approaches? The university stuff is stressful because this is something I’ve been working on for months, and it directly impacts when I will graduate. The job hunting stuff, well we all know that’s stressful, right? I think it’s the waiting. I interviewed on Wednesday and at the end of the day Thursday I haven’t heard. On Wednesday I was positive, but as I write this (on Thursday afternoon) all I can think of is better examples to answer every question and a concept for the problem we were talking about that I think is really workable (I had the genesis of this idea in the interview, but not enough to think it worth mentioning. Now it’s fully formed). I was convinced after the interview that I would be a perfect fit for this project – and I still 100% believe that – but, I’m also 75%+ convinced I’m going to be rejected and debating my backup plan – should I ski in New Zealand, do yoga in Ibiza? Apply to a work experience/language program in France? Or, stop running away and keep putting myself out there for potential rejection.

There’s an obvious analogy between dating and job hunting, but here’s the kicker: if some guy rejects you it’s easy to rationalize, weird uber-Catholic interfering parents, for example, or (the classic) commitment issues. But when a successful and innovative company rejects you, it has to be you, right? Either you wouldn’t be great at it, or you didn’t present yourself in such a way that you managed to convince someone else you would be great at it.

Now, time for my positive spin. How have I been hiding my meltdown? Literally physically hiding is one way, I guess. Aside from my non-response to email, who can tell? I have been (trying to) maintain a positive attitude in conversation, where instead of moaning about “oh I’m so overwhelmed” I talk about what I’m doing instead. I’ve tried to minimize my commitments, but keep the ones I have made already (I hate being flaky, the guilt of letting someone down typically is more time consuming than actually doing the thing I’ve committed to). Last week, I gave myself a break from working out. I’ve grabbed relaxation time whilst I could, e.g. watching movies whilst marking and running experiments – I find I focus better on boring and somewhat mindless tasks if I’ve allocated a distraction, and as a result I’m less likely to be sidetracked by other distractions.

And going forward, what can I change? Really, I want to try not to cram so many stressful/highly important things together in a short space. I think for the past 3 weeks, it’s been unavoidable, but maybe I could have managed it better – or managed expectations better so that during this period people at least stopped asking me for things. But aside from that, being told my work had no value hit me for six, and I spent a week and a half feeling discouraged by that (or, until I had a meeting where someone who understood better what I was doing made it clear that he didn’t think that was the case). Linking my productivity to my self-esteem is not great. Linking my self-esteem to what someone who doesn’t know what I’m doing says about my work, though, is really ridiculous, and I see that now. I should be confident enough in what I’m doing, the value I’m creating, and in the feedback I’m getting from so many other people that this one person doesn’t carry that much weight with me. So I guess I’ll be working on that, too.

6 thoughts on “Not (Quite) Having a Meltdown

  1. On the subject of interviews, I think a comparison to dating is apt. There might be a process and rules and whatnot, but what you're really doing as an interviewer – regardless of the size of the company – is assessing whether you would want to work with someone, and strangely that's most true at successful and innovative companies simply because they err on the side of caution if they're not sure, rather than getting hung up on The Process. “Chemistry” isn't quite the right word, but there has to be a connection and a feeling that you'd fit in well – and that's not just about ability, will vary from place to place, and can be thrown off by the interviewer as much as you – especially since, lest we forget, you're always able to turn an offer down.

    Don't believe that interviewers don't get nervous they'll screw it up, by the way – there's obviously a balance of power you don't really get when dating, but it's not totally one-sided.

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