I click off the lamp on my nightstand, close my eyes, and attempt to drift off to sleep.
Instantly, my mind starts racing with a whirlwind of thoughts and questions. Am I going to land that big project I just pitched? What did my editor really mean when she asked me to rework that piece? Is that just her sugarcoated way of saying that she thinks I’m a terrible writer? Should I have started that email with that casual “hey there,” or would I have been better off with a traditional “hello?”
If there’s ever a time when all of those deep-seated insecurities and career fears begin to bubble to the surface—without a doubt—it’s right after I turn off my light and try to doze off.
It makes sense, really. It’s pretty much the only time of day when I have a long period of empty, quiet time to myself with nothing to do but think. And, while that uninterrupted reflection can lead to some great ideas, it can also generate plenty of obsessive worrying and frantic, paranoid thoughts.
I know I can’t be alone. So, here are four different career fears that keep all of us tossing and turning from time to time. If you don’t recognize anything on this list? Please, by all means, let me know your secrets.
1. “Am I Even Good at What I Do?”
Normally, you feel pretty confident in your career path. Yes, you’ve accepted the fact that you’re not always going to be the best at what you do. But, for the better part of the day, you still find it relatively easy to keep your imposter syndrome at bay.
However, when your head hits that pillow? That’s when all of that self-doubt really kicks into high gear.
Maybe something big happened that day—like you had a rough meeting with your boss or you’ve fallen into the trap of comparing yourself with your college roommate, who just announced a huge promotion. Or, maybe nothing happened—causing you to feel like you’re stagnating and failing to make any forward progress in your career.
Either way, your brain is suddenly filled with all sorts of self-deprecating thoughts that make you wonder how you managed to achieve any sort of success in your chosen field. And, when you’re feeling extra full of uncertainty and pessimism, you take this a step further and convince yourself that you’re bound to get fired—tomorrow.
2. “What if This Is as High as I’ll Get on the Ladder?”
You’re rational enough to recognize that climbing the ladder involves plenty of time and patience—at least most of the time.
However, when you’re given that supposedly peaceful time in bed to churn over your own thoughts, you instantly become convinced that you’re not moving anywhere near fast enough. In fact, you think you might’ve already reached the end of your upward climb.
You should be further along at this point, shouldn’t you? After all, your mom’s neighbor’s sister’s son is already an executive at his company—and he’s a year younger than you. Surely, this means you’re destined for a mediocre career staying exactly where you are.
3. “What if I Never Figure Out [Big Important Thing]?”
Your company just implemented a brand new piece of software that they’re requiring everyone to use. Or, you had a sit-down with your manager and she put a massive, challenging project on your plate.
There’s only one problem: You’re convinced you’ll never be capable of getting this down pat. In your mind, you don’t have the necessary time, resources, or smarts to take care of this big, important thing that’s supposedly do-or-die in your career.
So, naturally, you’re going to spend the next four hours repeatedly flipping your pillow to the cool side and compulsively checking the time on your phone. Because there’s nothing like thinking, “I need to get up in four hours…wait, now it’s three hours and 59 minutes,” to lull you right to sleep.
4. “Is This Really What I Want to Do for The Rest of My Life?”
You don’t even have anything in your fridge that you can eat for breakfast tomorrow—yet, suddenly you’re gravely concerned about what you’ll be doing 30 years from now.
Sure, you like what you’re doing now, but can you see yourself doing it for the rest of your numerous working years? Won’t you get bored soon? I mean, you love animals and wanted to be a veterinarian when you were eight years old. Maybe you should try that occupation on for size, right?
Despite your intentions of catching some zzz’s, your subconscious is plainly telling you that the time right before you fall asleep is apparently the perfect opportunity to plan out the remainder of your entire career—even if you’re not feeling particularly practical or clearheaded.
If your mind begins spinning with all sorts of doubts and fears as soon as you attempt to doze off at night, you’re not alone—it happens to all of us every now and again.
So, what should you do when you find yourself stuck in that cycle of obsessing over every last detail of your job? Your best bet is to do anything to take your mind off of your worrying. Read a book, watch a show, listen to a podcast, or do some deep breathing. If this happens a lot, make a brag book just for yourself. Keep a running list of all your accomplishments that you can look at whenever you’re lying awake, worried one mistake will ruin you.
If you do what you can to shift your focus, you’ll be snoring and dreaming in no time. And, as you know all too well already, those fears that plagued you in the dark aren’t nearly as scary in the bright light of the morning.
Photo of person stressed courtesy of demaerre/Getty Images.
Kat is a Midwest-based freelance writer, covering topics related to careers, productivity, and the freelance life. In addition to The Muse, she's a contributor all over the web and dishes out research-backed advice for places like Atlassian, Trello, Toggl, Wrike, The Everygirl, FlexJobs, and more. She's also an Employment Advisor at a local college, and loves helping students prepare to thrive in careers (and lives!) they love. When she manages to escape from behind her computer screen, she's usually babying her two rescue mutts or continuing her search for the perfect taco. Say hi on Twitter @kat_boogaard or check out her website.More from this Author