When I was eighteen, I worked at a college coffee shop where students rushed between classes for their lattes and scones. My first duty on the job was to handle the cash register, but my mind was preoccupied with the long line and the students’ frantic chatter. I felt my hands shaking and my heart racing. I was slow at my job and I was worried my boss would notice. I had a strong inner critic: “You’re not good enough at this job,” “You’re not being cheery enough to customers,” “You’re not perfect.” Perfect? Yes, I needed to be perfect, or so I thought at the time.
Two weeks into the job, my supervisor asked to speak to me one-on-one and my thoughts were immediately: “I’m getting fired.” But, that wasn’t the case. She did indeed tell me I wasn’t working at the most effective pace for business, but she wanted to give me time to improve and to learn more. She knew I hadn’t worked at a coffee shop prior to this position.
What did I do? I froze. The next day, I called in and quit. My reasoning was: I will probably not improve, and so I’ll get fired, so I might as well quit now.
I didn’t give myself time to grow. I didn’t allow for mistakes. I don’t have regrets, but if I could give myself advice I would have said to the younger me: “Keep going. You won’t be a failure if you get fired. You’ll be a hero for trying.” Now, “hero” may seem hyperbolic, but considering the anxiety I was living with, hero feels like an accurate word—my own hero.
In a professional sense, my path had so many “bumps” that, on a surface level, it could be considered embarrassing. But I’m no longer embarrassed. I didn’t have the tools to handle my anxiety and it’s simply part of my story. Instead, I look back and wish I could have had self-compassion. I wish I knew about self-care, peer support, and advocating for myself.
As I gain more years of work experience, I learn about what kind of ways in which I need to self-advocate or ask for support. Wellness is an evolving path. It used to be that I met my Dad for a quick lunch once a week during a break from work, or called to check in with my mom. Next, it was asking to process the day with my husband when I got home: what went well, and what didn’t. Then, I learned to communicate effectively with my colleagues and supervisor and not to be timid with being open and asking for support. From the coffee pours to the public speaking, I’ve come a long way, and I’m building confidence in handling my anxiety.