I recently read a study about how procrastination is correlated with low self-esteem. The act of putting off tasks is a result of a self-aggravating belief that the task you produce is representative of you as a person; you believe that your value is dictated by what you create, and in fear that you will make a mistake, you avoid actively completing your work or finding solutions to your problem.
Now that I’ve begun my first full-time job, this is something that I’ve been having some difficulty with. My job, as of now, is to create workshops and presentations at the scale that has yet to be presented to the student bodies of this campus. The work is both proactive and reactive; there are a lot of (social) ramifications attached to the enactment of these trainings. Although there are about 5 positions up the ladder that I have to earn confirmation from before my work goes public, I’m still the person behind the content before its raw edges are sanded down to fit the cookie cutter molds of this institution.
I’m pretty anxious at work. Usually there is at least a day, if not two, in a week that I’m staying late. People tell me that I have to set boundaries, that I shouldn’t let my work override my life. But the truth is that I let it consume my life – I voluntarily stay late to continue working. I can’t help it. I hate feeling inadequate. Behinds the closed doors of my office, I often spiral down and start doubting my abilities: Am I equipped for this job, without a masters in social work, psychology, or education? Do I even know what I’m doing? I start wondering if it was a good idea to study policy instead of social work, which is pretty ironic, considering I initially gave up studying social work so I can graduate with a degree in policy.
I’m also realizing that this behavior of being scared of failures is noticeable in other aspects of life, such as love. I know this sounds ridiculous because I’m only 24, but I feel like I’ve made a fair amount of mistakes in my life when it comes to romance. I feel that the person I date is a reflection of my worth and the love they display is the badge of honor of what I deserve. The fear of having “yet another relationship that didn’t work out” grabs me by my ankles and suppresses my thoughts and voices, until I feel like my emotions and feelings are invalid, that I’m only being overly dramatic, demanding, aggressive, etc.
Because my office is under counseling and mental health, I have had the privilege of looking at the work I do with a mental health focused mindset. Recently, the psychology interns have been sharing their “diversity cases” and the progress that they have made with their clients. At these sessions, I got to watch recordings of therapy sessions for the first time. It was unbelievable to hear how much trauma these students have endured and overcame; from familial and generational trauma to stress from academics, these students were under an immense amount of pressure to be perfect, and to be okay with whatever that is going on in their lives. These students constantly question their worth on their ability to deal with their problems. They asked questions such as, even though I act this way because of my trauma, is it my fault if I don’t make friends? Is it my fault if I can’t ask out the person I like? Is it my fault if it I want to kill myself? As a third party watching from the outside, it became so heartbreaking to watch, and I had to hold my tears and make sure that I don’t cry in front of my coworkers.
But once I realized how so many people feel this way, I became hyper-receptive to others’ feelings of inadequacy. One day, I was on phone with my friend “A” on my way back from work. When she said that she sometimes like staying late at work because it “makes [her] feel like [she is] doing something worthwhile,” I found myself immediately snapping and saying, “you’re worthy as you are. You don’t need to prove it for anyone.” We both agreed that it is true, that we don’t need to define ourselves by the amount or the quality of the work we produce because we are precious as we are. No questions asked. I talked to her for another hour or so before making myself something to eat.
Since speaking with her about this, I think something in my brain just clicked. I am worthy. My job doesn’t define me. I am doing my best, and that’s the best I can do. If my best and honest self isn’t enough, then that’s okay.
I’ve been taking proactive steps in all aspects of my relationships, including professional relationships, to see how I can be better, and how I can be heard. For example, recently, I did a presentation and felt like staff members of other campus departments weren’t impressed by my work. I couldn’t tell if I felt that way because of imposter syndrome or because I really had done a terrible job. On the way back to my office, I complained about it to one of our social work interns, who is getting her masters but is also far more qualified than I am. By the time I had gotten to my office, however, I decided to send them an anonymous feedback form and ask them to give me a feedback on my presentation skills. I told them I want to learn from the experts, and I would appreciate any constructive criticism. After sending them that email, I closed my computer, and forgot about it.
I only got one response back – I’m sure they’re busy with other things – but honestly, the feedback is a lot better than I thought it would be. They said they didn’t like the room. That wasn’t something I had control of; I didn’t choose that room. They told me I should reflect on student comments. I’ll have to practice my active listening more. Initially, I had thought that the comments would make me mad, but instead, it felt so freeing to take control, and ask for what I needed.
Working has definitely been an interesting experience. No one is giving me pats on my back for the work that I do. No more awards, no more incentives, no more news feature articles. It’s so different from student activism or any internship that I’ve done, yet it has more real consequences than anything I’ve ever done before. 4 out of 5 days, I come home totally exhausted; it took me a while to write this post too. But I think I’m learning a lot, and I can say for the first time in a while that I’m proud of myself. And maybe that’s part of growing up – learning to let go while valuing myself as a whole. I am extremely happy of the progress I’ve made so far, and I can’t wait to exude light and channel peace in all aspects of my life.