I work as a developer/analyst in the IT department of a large international corporation. And last year was a rough year for me. There was a major reorganization of the company, which actually resulted in my employer being split into two separate companies leaving me on a much smaller team than what I was had grown accustomed to. My team lead went to the other company, as did most of the other senior developers on my team. Where before I could lean heavily on the team lead and senior developers for support and assistance, I found myself being held responsible for even more without their aid. Our manager informed us early in the year that everyone would be expected to perform on a higher level, and she turned out to be right. I suddenly found myself handling much more responsibility than I was accustomed to, and was put on a “performance improvement plan” as I was neither trained for nor accustomed to the new expectations.

And I was terrified, and feared that a PIP meant I was soon to be fired. For months, I was constantly on edge at work, at one point experiencing sharp cramps in my back from sitting so tensely at my computer. I seriously considered leaving, and even attended career counseling sessions to try to find an alternative career path. But I didn’t leave, with the hopes that things would get better.

And I am still working for the same employer now. Yesterday I had my yearly evaluation, and it looks like I have come a long way since I was under that PIP. According to my manager, I am now performing well up to expectations, even though I am just as busy as ever. And now with two more developers recently having been added to the team, it looks like things are about to get a bit less hectic.

I learned a lot about myself though my anxious career experiences last year. I discovered that when I am feeling overwhelmingly anxious and uncertain about the future, superstitious and religious thinking is more tempting than ever. I am currently reading The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer and learning about studies that have shown that when people are stressed out and feeling out-of-control, they are more likely to see patterns in noise and more likely to attribute conscience agency to chance events in their lives (whether it’s ideas of a higher being having plans for their life, or of a conspiracy theory to ruin it). Makes sense to me, as I have caught myself in that kind of thinking when I am stressed out.

Here is probably the most important lesson I have learned though all of this. While it was difficult enough to deal with the heightened expectations of my employer, my main stumbling block had to do with unrealistically high expectations of myself. I have never thought of myself as a perfectionist, but I have discovered that I have some perfectionist tendencies. And I projected that perfectionism onto others around me, fearing that if I made mistakes or was unable to solve that complex programming problem within the original estimates I would be fired. Come to find out, it doesn’t work that way so long as I communicate clearly about any problems or delays I am experiencing. I am perfectly capable of handling my responsibilities at work, despite my insecurities.

As long as I remember to think positively and not panic.

English: Don't Panic towel