21 Sep My Battle with Status Anxiety
I’m not a fan of mingling at events: be it a casual get together or a party. The anxiety of engaging in small talk with complete strangers is enough for me to avoid them completely.
And then there is this dreaded question. Without fail, the first thing I get asked when I meet someone, ‘So what do you do?”
According to how impressive my answer is, people either are keen to talk to me or they keep it moving to speak to the next person; one who presumably has a better resume.
My professional position has become the central verdict on my character.
We live in a world of snobs, people who take a tiny piece of us – our professional identities – and come to a complete verdict about how valuable we are as humans. That’s why you, me and the majority of people worry so much about judgment and humiliation and this in turn, creates status anxiety.
It is said that we live in materialistic times. But it is more poignant than that. We live in times where emotional rewards are pegged to the acquisition of material things. What people are ultimately looking for when they go after big money, big jobs or fancy cars is not really things in themselves, so much as for the attention and respect – or if you prefer “the love” that are given to those who have them.
Throughout my 20s I battled with status anxiety (as well as social anxiety).
You see as a Guyanese living in Trinidad and Tobago, chances are people will automatically judge me negatively and in most cases would wonder what I’m doing in the same social circles as them and not on Charlotte Street. I began acutely aware of the negative stigma when I first moved to Trinidad through numerous disparaging comments and relentless teasing. And let’s not get into the numerous racist incidents from varying social groups.
As a teenager, I realized that in order for me to gain the respect of Trinidadians, I’d have to work 50 times harder than the average Trini. Just to be considered human. Just to be seen not as a nuisance to society.
As I got older and my friends in Trinidad and those living in USA, Canada and Europe, got jobs in multi-national companies or banks or consultancies coupled with their graduate education, I felt left behind. I had not quite figured out what I wanted to do at 26 and didn’t want to invest in a masters without knowing for certain it was something I wanted to do for the next 10 years. So instead I quit my job at an international bank, took a risk and went to work as a General Manager for a medium sized family business. It was a new experience and one where it afforded me the opportunity to widen my business knowledge. Plus, I reasoned, seeing that the majority of businesses in the Caribbean are family-owned, it made perfect sense for me to get a good idea of unique workings of one.
Remember the question I hate to answer at events?
Well, I would tell people what I did and the family business’ name, and their first reaction would be to brush me off because they didn’t know of the company’s name. My self-worth was now defined by the company I worked for.
People who are rich, have important job titles, light skinned, on the social scene and on party committees are elevated in Trinidadian society. Barring which I don’t fit into any of these categories, I struggled with status anxiety. My anxiety was exacerbated by the fact that being in Trinidad the number thing to do is party, hang out and go to the beach. The party scene? I’m bored of it. Hanging out? Unless it’s with close friends, I’m not that interested. Going to the beach? Yes, but I prefer Tobago.
As you can see, I am like a square peg in a round hole.
When I was 27, an ex-boyfriend of mine gifted me with a book, Make The Impossible, Possible by Bill Strickland which profoundly changed the way I view success. Because of a bad break up, I couldn’t bring myself to actually read the book until a couple years later. This was to be the pivotal point to my understanding that a successful life is not one you pursue; it is one you have the power to create.
Success is the point where your most authentic talents, passion, values, and experiences intersect with the chance to contribute to some greater good.
- Bill Strickland
All of the years, I had spent worrying over other people’s definition of a successful life, was in fact making me “poor” in one way or another when I was accepting that I was not experienced enough, beautiful enough, rich enough, talented enough or popular enough to accomplish something.
I constantly tell people now, “I do not want an ambitious life, I want a meaningful one.”
And by meaningful what do I mean exactly?
I want a life where I define success on my own terms. I want a life where I can one day find my soul’s purpose. A life where I am blessed enough to use my gifts for the benefit of the world. A life where I experience joy and inner contentment with who I am and what I am doing.
But that’s easier said than done.
What can be meaningful to me may not be meaningful in society. There have been times when I have been tormented by am I on the right path? Is it not better to do what everyone else sees as useful to move ahead? I am constantly on a seesaw, on one end, I still want to be recognized by others but on the other end, I understand that the intrinsic happiness I attain should mean more. Most days, I choose my happiness.
Self-esteem comes from self, not from acquisitions and not from approval. I’ve come to the understanding that while I am changing the lens through which how I see my place in this world and how I view the world, I cannot expect that the people around me will in turn change how they view me.
It’s a tough journey. One which I am still on.
Wish me luck!