Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Anxiety and Processing Failure

First off, everything is fine. I'm fine, everyone's okay. I'm just musing here.

It's a sad fact of life that not everything is going to go your way. Sometimes you can fight the good fight and lose. Failure can take many forms in both your professional and personal lives. You can lose anything from an issue at work to job opportunities, relationships, even people's lives. And no matter how hard you try, no matter how much work you put into it, no matter how smart or talented or charming you are, you will face failure at some point in your life. Everyone does. The real issue here is how we deal with it.

I am an anxious person. I have been an anxious person for as long as I have been capable of cognizant thought. So, naturally, worry has been a constant presence in my life. I've worried about everything from report cards to parent-teacher conferences, interviews, work assignments, cases, judges, adversaries, relationships with friends and significant others. I'm constantly afraid that I've missed something, forgotten to do something or say something or meet some hidden requirement. And failure, however slight, only compounds these fears.

When I fail in any way, it sets of a whole new range of fears. My mind fills with possible repercussions. I interact with people and wonder if they've already discovered my failure. I start to believe that once I'm "found out," I'll be punished in some horrible way. Fired, ostracized, destroyed somehow. I wonder if my friends and family will still love me and want me around. I worry about losing my home, my loved ones and possessions and I start to feel like I never really deserved any of it in the first place. I begin to feel as if any success I've had has been a fluke and that once this mistake is discovered it will all be taken away.

And so when I have any sort of failure, my first instinct is to bury it. I've hidden report cards, lied about grades or homework assignments and skipped days of school or work following (or even just anticipating) embarrassing incidents. I've let phone calls go to voice mail just to avoid talking about something (or even thinking about it) for a few more minutes. I've avoided entire branches of the practice of law just to insulate myself (aka "hide") from failure.

But as I said above, there is no insulation from failure. There's no hiding from it. No matter what you do, no matter where you go, you will face it at some point in your life. Thus far, the most important lesson I have been taught in life by far has been that we are responsible for ourselves. And lying, hiding and running are not viable reactions to failure. So what is the proper response then? How does an anxious person whose anxiety is compounded by any sense of failure deal with it?

I don't have the answers here. I'm asking questions. When something goes wrong at your job or in your personal life, how do you deal with it? Does anyone have a conscious method for this?