If you’re reading this, you’re probably* human. That means you’ve experienced career panic.
*Unless you’re an algorithm scraping this text to collect marketing data. The world we live in, right?
As a member of the modern human species, we all get to experience fun things like falling in love, eating croissants and looking at pictures of young Johnny Depp (don’t @ me). But the job also comes with some not-so-fun obligations: crippling doubt, delayed flights, sadness, weak coffee, teenage angst, overly loud EDM in cycling classes, heartbreak, doing your taxes and existential dread. Oh, and career panic.
If you didn’t just shudder knowingly reading the words “career panic,” consider yourself very, very lucky. Career panic, like leopard print midi skirts, comes in all shapes and sizes. There’s something for everyone, whether you’re an accountant having a midlife crisis or… a gallerina.
Those of us working in the art world might be even more susceptible to career panic than the average Millennial. Heaps of glamor and perks like travel, parties and galas draw countless starry-eyed college students into the art world. But jobs are often in limited supply and very competitive. And when you do snag your dream job, say hello to long hours, big egos and bitchy bosses. Oh, the things we do to breathe the same air as a Basquiat.
Even if you’re dead-set on an art world career, doubts are bound to come up from time to time. Those times might include: the week after Basel, anytime end-of-quarter figures come out looking less than rosy, or when you get stuck next to your art world nemesis at a dinner… three nights in a row.
But don’t worry—your doubts to not define you OR your career. Next time career panic slides its clammy fingers around your throat, ask yourself these 10 questions.
1) Have I eaten today?
You’d be surprised how many panic attacks can be averted by eating breakfast. Maybe you think that your career panic stem from the chaos late capitalism has inflicted on the art industry. That’s all fine and good, but there might also be a teeny, tiny chance that 90% of your rage is fueled by… homicidal hunger. I’ll bet my next paycheck that Marx was starving when he wrote Capital.
Here’s a good rule of thumb. If you’ve had more coffees than meals in the past three days, eat a nice, balanced lunched before jumping to any rash decisions about your future. And chill on the lattes!
2) Have I slept?
Ditto on sleep. Sleep deprivation could play a big role in anxiety, according to new research. If everything seems fine on paper but you’re losing your mind with worry, all those sleepless nights might be to blame. Just like you don’t want to rush into any big career-changing decisions on an empty stomach, you definitely don’t want to on four hours of sleep.
Realizing that there might be external causes of your career panic can help you take a step back and get a little perspective on your crisis. As my Russian mom used to say to me all the time growing up, the morning is wiser than the evening. Especially if you get those eight hours of shut-eye.
3) Do I have burnout?
Burnout is real. Like, acknowledged by the World Health Organization-level real. Quick: have you had a day off in the last year? Do you remember what your own bedroom looks like? If the answers are no and no, you just might have burnout.
The WHO described this “occupational phenomenon” by its three symptoms. The first two are relatively common sense: feeling exhausted and reduced efficiency. Hard to be efficient when you’re exhausted, right? But the third comes as a surprise: increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativity or cynicism about the job.
When you’re extremely overworked, it’s easy to lose sight of all the things you love about your profession in the first place. If this sounds like you, your career panic might be a symptom of burnout, and not a sign that you massively fucked up your life and got trapped in the wrong career.
4) What is it exactly that’s making me upset?
Sit down and make a list. When general career panic descends, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and wallow in self-pity. A more useful strategy, however, is to pinpoint your grievances and make a plan to tackle them head-on.
Do you feel like your work isn’t being valued? Are you having conflicts with your co-workers? Do you feel stuck and worried about your future prospects? Do your goals feel too unrealistic?
Whatever it is that’s making you panic, it’s probably much more manageable that it seems at 4am. Once you know exactly what’s bothering you, you’ll be in a much better position to start making changes in your life to address the issue.
5) What can I do about it?
Instead of worrying about the things you can’t control, focus on changing the things you do control. It’s cliché but true: when you worry about things out of your control, you’re only killing your own vibe.
Obviously, this is easier said than done. If worry was a switch we could flip on and off at will, the entire psychiatric profession would go out of business overnight. That said, there are some things you can do to get your general anxiety under control. One of them is to determine what you can control.
In terms of career, this might mean writing out a 5-year plan, or at least a loose plan of action to address your biggest immediate dilemma. If your panic is financial, for example, you could do some salary research on Glassdoor and then fish around for positions that pay more. You could also work out how to ask your boss for a raise, or even brainstorm ways to make a little extra cash on the side.
Guess what isn’t helpful? Crying on the subway behind fake Gucci sunglasses because you think you won’t be able to afford to retire in Switzerland.
Well, there you have it. A 5-step questionnaire to help make the worst career panic manageable. Does this help? How do you deal with career anxiety?
Text by Katya Lopatko
Images via @fuckjerry, @classicalfuck, WikiArt