Monday, September 10, 2012

The curse and blessing of answered prayers

I've been going through a weird time lately, and I've hesitated to blog about it because I haven't fully gotten my arms around the feeling, the current that's been running through my days/nights/mind.  Then I remember that Kierkegaard said that life is lived forward and understood backwards, so I might as well write about it.

Every day, I've gone to work and sat down, flipped on my computer, looked at the sketches on my desk, and felt a wave of discomfort that ranges from mild anxiety to a blast of panic.  I have a variety of jobs to do and roles to play on St. Ermahgerd, and I find myself constantly wondering if:

  • I'm doing the right thing
  • I'm doing it at the right time
  • I'm working too much
  • I'm working too little
  • I'm using the right people for the right tasks
  • My staff is learning and feeling supported in their jobs and roles on the project
  • My colleagues are getting what they need from working with me
  • My colleagues and staff enjoy working with me
  • My bosses (Bosley and Howie) like the job I'm doing
  • I've officially reached my level of incompetence
I suppose this level of self-doubt is normal to anyone who's gotten a promotion or taken on new responsibilities at work.  I wanted to be a healthcare planner/architect, and now that I got what I wanted, I'm regularly seized with a low-level sense of anxiety about what I'm doing and how I'm doing it. The biggest question I have is the one to which I can't seem  to get a good answer:  is this level anxiety normal? How should I be feeling?

As usual, when I feel any discomfort, I turn to books. (I also turn to wine, but I'm trying to resist the siren call of the corkscrew for now.)  I found an interesting book called Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong by Kelly Wilson, PhD and Troy Dufrene, which discusses the nature of anxiety, its role in modern life, and how to live with it and be free of it.  Their angle is that you're not going to ever be rid of anxiety, but you can live life without it weighing you down and adversely affecting you.  Wilson's approach is part psychologist and part Buddhist meditator: learn to sit with the anxiety, since it can't actually hurt you, instead of instantly trying to solve it or run from it or conquer it.  Just sit with it and you'll see how anxiety is an emotion of either the past or future, but never the present--we can only be anxious about something we did in the past or something we fear might happen in the future.

Part of loosening anxiety's grip on us is to recognize and live/be in the present moment.  Part of living in the present is taking stock of where you are and what you're doing.  Part of what I'm doing, I've recently realized, is what I really really want to do: plan and lay out hospitals and healthcare facilities.  Yes, I still have to occasionally answer a question or review a shop drawing for Gestalt's Uber MOB or go to a meeting on some other random project for which I was project architect before St. Ermahgerd kicked off, but overall my time is spent doing the part of a project where my skills are most useful.  And because my strengths actually match the stuff I'm doing most days, I actually feel pretty good about what I do.  I'm busy as hell, but I'm doing the part of architecture that I most enjoy.

And then the anxiety kicks in: yeah, I'm doing what I like, but is it enough? Am I doing it right? Is it working?  And the most insidious fear: by doing only the parts I like, aren't I being lazy? I suppose the answer to that last question is: perhaps, perhaps not.  It does seem a bit avoidant not to do all the parts of architecture, the planning and the construction detailing.  But also, it would seem like asking me to do the detailing when we have people in the office, like Chloe, who are stellar at detailing and project management would be like asking a duck to build a dam out of sticks while asking a beaver to take flight from a pond's surface.  Sometimes, it's okay to do what you're good at instead of slogging through the crap that you're not good at. If you pride yourself on efficiency, as I do, then it just makes sense.

So, sometimes I feel wracked with panic, and sometimes I feel like I'm doing things just right, and sometimes I feel like there is no right or wrong way to do what I'm doing, only many ways.  I'm doing what I do the only way I know how, which is good enough for now.


Lilylou said...

Anxiety is one of those things that both helps rev us up and also slows us down, isn't it?

I find that I have less anxiety about my work when I also have an interesting private life. It really gave a boost to my work when I started singing with the band, in that I had something really fun to think about, not just how I was doing professionally.

willderness gina said...

Listen to your mother- YOU are the least lazy person on the planet. Before your Dad died there were two of you not-at-all-lazy-persons.
Take time off. Grab Mile High Guy and go somewhere. Changing work shifts every 4 weeks has me off kilter(and we all know what happens when Mom is off kilter- things git kilt) But at least I know whats wrong. Take a day off and have an extra latte on me... um. Have another latte.

Andrea said...

From what your saying, it also sounds like you have issues with whether it's alright to be happy at work. I think part of the American work ethic that is sometimes unconsciously delivered s that work is supposed to be hard and unpleasant. If we reach the point in our careers where we enjoy what we do and/or it isn't "hard" then we begin to feel guilty. We try to justify how what we do really IS hard or unpleasant. Or we create anxiety about it. And then the anxiety makes it grD or unpleasant so then we are ok again.

wilderness gina said...

Soooo Andrea you subscribe to the '40's notion "If the troups ain't bitchin they're A: scared shitless or B: about to revolt, Right?

Give em hell, Pix