Leading with anxiety

Some leaders are born; others are made. Then there are people like me, who look like leaders on the outside but feel like impostors on the inside.

That’s what it’s like to be a leader who deals with frequent bouts of anxiety.

Self-blame, self-doubt, feelings of failure, incompleteness, hopelessness, fear and fatalism—sometimes they’re there, residing in the shadows, even when I’m surrounded by wins and the sun is shining brightest.

I often feel compelled to run away when I feel the sudden presence of melancholy seeping into the periphery of my consciousness. Too often, it overstays its welcome and I have no choice but to shut down.

Some days are dogs, some days are diamonds.

In life, I’ve discovered, it’s all about perspective. For instance, sometimes I’ll read the inspirational leadership quotes that appear in my newsfeeds as accusations rather than encouragements:

  • “The world is changed by your example, not your opinion.”
  • “Your attitude is everything if you want to succeed.”
  • “Before you can win, you have to believe you are worthy.”

We seem to expect our leaders to be thick-skinned, invulnerable to attack, and to deflect criticism, no matter how deserved or unjust that might be.

We expect them to be on inspiration mode 24/7—to be perfect role models, to be tireless workers and to faultlessly perform on demand.

Leaders are not supposed to feel blue! We’re not supposed to show fatigue, signs of uncertainty, weakness, indecision or doubt. And yet, here I am: a leader with a track record of success, an external attitude of can-do enthusiasm and a mind riddled with fear and doubt—a well-rounded contradiction of flaws and glory.

Yet, in spite of its dark connotations, my anxiety has also helped shape the way I see the good in the world. Many people assume that happiness should be our natural state of being—we’re told to seek it, choose it and hold onto it no matter what. For me, balance is the goal: to enjoy the ups, learn from the downs, but always seek contentment somewhere in between the two.


Image via Dumbo Feather.

I wear my feelings like a cloak that I flick off my shoulders when I find it getting in my way.

I have learned to play out my negative thoughts in reverse—and my positive ones too. This means seeing the full emotional spectrum of possibilities, from dark to light, and then choosing which truth to own.

Constantly expecting the losses can be a better boost for the wins, and while our minds are naturally inclined to see the flaws, we can find the silver lining by consciously choosing to seek it out and embracing the love and support of people around us.

I know my value as a creative instigator, an innovator, a quick thinker, a hard-working practitioner and a loyal team member, but I never imagined my career would be centred so much on being in the spotlight. Nevertheless, I’m glad it’s ended up this way, because when you are given control of the light, you have so much more control of the dark.

If you need help, contact Beyond Blue, Sane, or Lifeline.  

Originally published in Dumbo Feather.

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