How To Manage Career Anxiety
What To Do When You’re Not Where You Want To Be
Every week, I’m hit with upwards of twenty emails full of career advice, market trends, and fashion news. I subscribe to so many newsletters that I’ve created a separate email account just for them! At twenty four years old and two years out of college, I feel like I should take advantage of all the guidance I can find. However, it’s quickly become information overload and all of the well-intentioned advice has left me feeling more anxious than ever.
As a freelancer, it’s easy to lose boundaries between work and life, which makes it difficult to turn off my brain at night. I find that my phone and journals are filled with notes on people I should reach out to, publications I should pitch to, and ideas I should pursue for my own projects. Each week, I attempt to play a game of catch up with myself, and seem to fail each time. There’s simply too much I feel I should be doing and not enough time to do it all in.
It probably seems odd that a young, anxiety-ridden woman would set out to do the very thing that stresses her out: give advice. Though I’m far from done with my career journey, I’m hoping my personal story and learnings will help relieve whatever stress you have put on yourself. Here are three lessons I’ve learned:
Networking Isn’t Life
There is a complicated relationship between career building and networking. The term has, in recent years, become stigmatized because of its connotations with fakeness. I believe that the sustainable fashion industry is especially passionate about genuine connection over networking, although we’re not immune to the pressure that comes with making any kind of new connection.
Even if the conversation is friendlier and the mutual respect genuine, networking is still networking. While I am incredibly grateful for opportunities to meet and mingle with those who I admire and believe that it is vital to most individual’s careers to network, we don’t always need to be “on.” Sometimes coffee is just coffee, and a good conversation at that function is just a joyous moment. Not every opportunity to meet someone in your field is a sign that you must become close with them and make career moves.
Every time I miss a gathering in my chosen field or don’t immediately reach out to a professional I’ve met, shame gets the best of me. The “what if’s” start to roll in and I begin thinking that every tiny move I make will either make or break my career. As an introvert, this makes my life pretty frustrating because I do not want to, nor should I, attend every event that comes my way. I absolutely love meeting inspiring people, but I also have healthy boundaries I need to enforce in order to maintain my sanity.
Recently, I’ve been attempting to change my thinking about all this: what if it’s not life-altering that I didn’t go to that conference? What if I let this shame go? I’m a firm believer that your life will play out the way it is supposed to and worrying about the past is futile. So my advice to you (and myself) is to chat up those who excite you and let yourself off the hook when you don’t. Not every company or contact is the right one for you, and that’s just fine.
You Are Not Stuck
My mother spent her entire adolescence working hard, getting good grades, and acing tests in order to go to a good college. She received a full ride to Georgetown University—and absolutely hated it. However much she disliked her time in college, she felt completely trapped and suffered through. Since then, she has made it her mission in life to ensure that my brother and I never feel that way. I was supported when I wanted to quit extracurricular activities in high school, when I wanted to transfer schools in college, and when I thought I wanted to drop out of college (I didn’t go through with it).
These days, I still call her all the time, expressing my worry about making the wrong career decision. She continues to remind me that I always have the agency to change my situation. Taking one step in a specific direction does not mean that you have now been blocked from turning onto another path. Despite what our brains like to tell us and what society likes to scare us with, most things are not permanent. Of course, completely adopting this thinking requires a degree of privilege, though I think the message is still important. Changing course—however big or small—will definitely require work, but it is far from impossible. Don’t condemn yourself to a life of career misery just because it feels taboo to change your mind.
Comparison Is Unhelpful
Although our culture aggressively breeds competition and perpetuates the idea that there is not enough for all of us, it’s simply not true. While we still have rigged systems and severe inequalities in this country, there is room for success. Still, I believe we need to redefine what success means in order to let the previous statements sink in.
Part of managing career anxiety is finding what path is right for you, not someone else—so why would you compare, anyway? I’ve seen secondhand that you can have a huge amount of mainstream “success” and still be unhappy. This may seem like a cliche, though I can’t emphasize enough how true it is. Money does not directly buy happiness! Yes, you need to make a living and want to be valued for your work, but make sure you’re in it for the right reasons. Value and validation are very different.
If your main motivator is to please other people or receive recognition, then you are locking yourself into a life of never-ending reaching. There’s no guarantee that you will get to the exact place you’re longing for, so it seems odd to bet your whole existence on it. Continue to dream big and work hard. Just don’t do it at the expense of living in the moment.
Audrey Stanton was born and raised in the Bay Area and is currently based in Los Angeles. She works as a freelance writer and content creator with a focus in sustainable fashion. Audrey is deeply passionate about conscious living and hopes to continue to spread awareness of ethical consumption.