Listen and leverage your anxiety to advance your search

Jan 19, 2023

After moving cross-country to my new home in Colorado, I bought a gigantic mirror that I found on clearance. I’ve never gotten around to hanging it. I just leaned it against my bedroom wall and hoped the leaning looked purposeful and artsy. 

The moment when that mirror served me best was the morning I broke down in front of it after setting the date that I would quit my job to become a full-time entrepreneur. Some of my nearest and dearest questioned my judgment, doubting my readiness and the timing of my decision, and they were right. Stability-seeking, strong professionals don’t make risky decisions, especially when they’re anxious. 

I sat on my bedroom carpet cross-legged, looking directly into my own eyes in that mirror. 

It’s important to take a good look at yourself every once in a while. Not the way you look at yourself while you’re getting dressed or brushing your teeth. I mean you need to look dead into your own eyes - at your real self. You need to make sure that you’re being honest with yourself and that the eyes in the mirror are the eyes of someone you recognize and respect.

Fear vs. Anxiety

While it can be easy to confuse fear and anxiety when you have butterflies in your stomach and your heart is racing, like with anything else, before trying to fix something you have to first understand its nature. In this case, it’s important to understand the ways in which fear and anxiety are different.

Fear involves a present threat that is nearly certain (i.e. a bee that’s about to sting you), while anxiety on the other hand pertains to the uncertainty of the future, outcomes that could either be negative or positive. Most importantly, anxiety requires a different kind of preparation when using it to advance our goals. 

Step 1: Listen to anxiety

It was in front of that mirror that I realized that I was feeling anxious because I was struggling to grasp a level of hope for the future. Younger Ki would have immediately fallen into the vicious cycle of anxiety - fearing it, fleeing from it, avoiding it at all costs - but this time I decided to sit back and just listen.

I paused and did a breathing exercise to help me get into the present, and then I reminded myself that I was going to stay curious and open. I sat there and realized that I needed to do something about this today

As I listened to my feelings, my anxiety started to diminish and clarity emerged. It gave me insight into what I cared about and what was important to me (turns out, we’re only anxious about the things we care about). By listening to my anxiety, I gained insight on ways that I could address it. 

Step 2: Leverage anxiety

Even though the future was uncertain, it still wasn’t time for me to despair. I was determined to figure out how to leverage this discomfort for a productive action, so I asked myself this question:

What is one small thing that I can do today that would eliminate some of this anxiety?

Sitting there with tears, I made a plan. I said to myself "I’m going to take this step, email this person and get in front of this problem instead of behind it." In the end, my anxiety primed me to focus, to persist, to innovate, to avert disaster, and to do whatever necessary to move in the direction of my dreams. 

The steps seem simple: listen and then leverage. The lesson that I learned when I broke down that day is that oftentimes, we’re so busy hating our anxiety that we forget to love the thought process that is reflected back to us in the mirror of our own self-consciousness.

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