Embracing Fear After Grad School

In 2009 I made my first appointment with a therapist. It took me several attempts. Picking up the phone, putting it back down. Discussing my options with a stranger on the employee assistance program hotline. Scanning the overwhelming list of providers, worried that I wouldn’t find a woman of color — someone who I hoped would “get” me without flaring up the already unmanageable anxiety I was experiencing.

Since then I’ve learned a lot about my anxiety, including triggers and techniques for managing it. But this doesn’t always protect me. Over the past few years my anxiety has manifested itself less and less as panic attacks and more as chronic tension headaches.

Ultimately, underneath it all is my fear of failure. Failure in that I’d disappoint my parents with my career choices and personal finance mistakes in my early 20s… Or that, as one of only three black women in my class, I’d become a stereotype with my poor academic performance, lose my scholarship and have to drop out of business school … Or, most recently, that I’d be fired from a fancy titled job that I wake up having to remind myself why I was even hired for and anxious to prove that reason to others.

For a long time my partner had a list of affirmations beside the bed, one of which was a source of comfort for me through my own stress and anxiety during business school. It read: “The worst thing you feared never happened.”

One of the tools I’d learned in therapy to manage my anxiety was to list all of the things I was afraid would happen, which would calm me down since the list was full of outcomes that could be resolved or were simply irrational.

Her quote on the wall served as a far more succinct reminder that I *am* okay and will continue to be okay.

And that’s what I keep telling myself.

As I wrap up my first 90 days in a job that has demanded more of me than I’ve ever experienced, I know that I can handle anything that comes my way. That my resilience has already brought me through other challenges and has prepared me for what lays ahead. And most importantly, that the worst things I’ve feared have never happened.

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Nikita T. MitchellComment