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Why a Touch of Anxiety Might Make You Happier at Work

Topics: Career Advice
Image Credit: David Marcu/Unsplash

The word “anxiety” tends to carry with it almost exclusively negative associations for most people. We’ve all felt anxious at one time or another, and we don’t tend to have particularly fond memories of the experience. We often use the word as a synonym for nervousness, worry, tension, or even fear. But, did you know that experiencing just a little anxiety might actually be a good thing? Here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to anxiety and your career.

Think you’d rather be comfortable? Think again.

Too much anxiety can derail productivity, but staying in our comfort zones can have a pretty damaging impact as well. Actually, pushing past discomfort is critical for your professional success.

Think about how nervous you were before your last big job interview. Maybe that was challenging, but it also led to something beneficial. What if, instead of facing that anxiety-provoking interview, you’d turned down that opportunity and elected to apply for a job that wouldn’t make you nervous instead? Maybe you would’ve felt comfortable during the interview process, but where would that have gotten you in the long run?

A touch of anxiety means we’re being challenged — and growing.

“Truly happy people seem to have an intuitive grasp of the fact that sustained happiness is not just about doing things you like. It also requires growth and adventuring beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone,” write Robert Biswas-Diener and Todd B. Kashdan in Psychology Today. “Happy people, are, simply put, curious.”

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Think about what your career would look like, if you never pushed past discomfort and learned anything new. You’d be a much less attractive candidate to hiring managers, for one thing. You’d also probably be pretty bored at work.

Curiosity fuels productive anxiety that helps you reach forward.

What drives some people to escape their professional comfort zones while others remain stuck inside them? Intellectual curiosity is often a key factor. In fact, curiosity is as important as intellect in many ways. (And, perhaps the two aren’t actually that different in the first place.) When someone is curious, they’re motivated to keep trying and learning, even when they’re afraid, and that is a recipe for professional success.

“People with higher CQ [curiosity quotient] are more inquisitive and open to new experiences,” writes Tomas Chamorro at Harvard Business Review. “They find novelty exciting and are quickly bored with routine. They tend to generate many original ideas and are counter-conformist.”

Intellectual curiosity drives folks to know more, to do more, to stretch, grow, and experience new things professionally. Sometimes these new experiences are somewhat anxiety-provoking, but that’s a good thing in the end. We have to encounter, and conquer, some intimidating challenges as we advance in our careers. The alternative is actually anything but comfortable.

Tell Us What You Think

How has facing your fears (or not) impacted your career? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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