Just because you feel uncomfortable doesn’t mean I tried to make you uncomfortable. Was it something I said? Was it something I did? Or did the mere fact that I showed up as me in this skin I’m in and you don’t know how to deal with people like me (as if I were a deck of cards that had to be dealt) that makes you uncomfortable? Or is it something unrelated to me?
In recent consulting and work settings, I’ve met a number of people who suffer from anxiety. They have difficulty making eye contact; they don’t speak even when spoken to, even though they see you several times a week. These are not people who have a diagnosis on the autism spectrum. They were hired in positions that require communicating with colleagues and the public. In my observation of at least two of them, they are selective when they speak or don’t speak, engage or don’t engage.
But, there’s more.
A few months ago, I facilitated a retreat where 9 of the 13 participants shared, in response to a homework assignment they were given, that they suffer from anxiety. I was floored by this especially since they also shared that they grew up in middle-to-upper class communities, with solid families (all but one or two in two-parents households, and were college grads (most with master’s degrees) all of whom were employed. They were all what I consider attractive. Communication in their department in their organization was colored by these high levels of anxiety.
I’ve also heard about high-anxiety from other Black and Latinx acquaintances closer to my generation whose kids also suffer from anxiety. They, too, are from privileged backgrounds. Their parents worked hard so that these children didn’t have to suffer or struggle like the parents did in their youth. They moved them out of the city into suburban communities where they are not part of the majority. They sent them to private or the best public schools and still their children suffer from uncertainty, hesitancy and anxiety.
I don’t understand. I don’t relate. I made some quick judgments about this, some deeply felt. And then I begin to think more deeply about this.
Today’s young adults and youth live in a world of insecurity such that I never had at their age. No institution is sacrosanct for them – not the schools, or the church, or the family, or the college campus, or the church. They go to schools in a time where instead of Fire Drills there are active shooter drills. They go to colleges that must provide offer training on what to do if the school is on lock-down as well as what do about sexual harassment and rape. They live in a time with atrocities all over the world are shared constantly on social media, television, print media, radio, etc.
How would I be if I had been raised in such an era of overwhelming uncertainty? In my youth, my concerns were mostly about family, if I’d get into college, if my parents would ever let me date, and how to overcome my fear of driving. Despite having some bad things happened while growing up, at the same time, there was so much love and a general feeling of safety that I managed to suck up and squash the bad and move on through the good. The times were safe enough that this unprepared nerd could navigate naiveté, survive poor/stupid/dumb choices, and grow stronger.
I also feel that it was beneficial for media to have a more limited role in my life. I grew up in a time without a constant barrage of celebrity as aspirational role-model, wealth as the end-all-be-all, and elevation of the weird and unsavory just for voyeurism and ratings. I was not deluged with articles and videos instructing me to be more, to be better, and comparing me to people who I was not. Trash media and gossip were restricted to gossip columnists and not part of legitimate media. Nowadays nearly every news vehicle pedals gossip and innuendo as much as fact or truth.
In addition to the societal anxieties they carry, I see young people having anxiety just going through the day:
- Anxiety because there might be traffic
- Anxiety because there is traffic
- Anxiety about how they look
- Anxiety whether you’ll get the job
- Anxiety now that you’ve got the job
- Anxiety about what others think
- Anxiety here and there, it loops everywhere.
No matter what you decide to do: counseling, meditation, exercising, prayer, or medication at the bottom, top and throughout, you are still the one who has to make the decision to do counseling, to meditate, to exercise, to pray, and/or to take medication. You have to make the decision that you am not going to let this job, this boss, this organization or company, or these people raise your anxiety. It is never the only job in the world or the only way to make a living or the only love you can have. And, nearly everyone around you experiences some uncertainty. You have to learn to adopt one of the most profound quotes ever from the movie, “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” where The Lady Chablis says, “It’s like my mother always said: “Two tears in a bucket, motherfuck it.”
This could go on and on but I’ll stop. I will say that opening my arms, offering a listening ear, and a bit of advice and help has been welcomed by several young people who’ve come my way through work and the referral of friends and acquaintances. They hear me because I’m not their Mom even though I could be. I treasure being a mentor even though I’m still figuring this living good, meaningful, positive, happy and fun life stuff out myself. Feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
(Coming soon will be some posts about…well, you’ll see. I’m taking off the gloves and writing some things I’ve been meaning to say.)
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