Last week, I visited a new spa with an infrared sauna to check out. I took a route that wasn’t unfamiliar, but it’s not a part of the suburbs that I visit often. As I drove around a wide, rounding corner, I started to feel anxious. My mind tuned out the podcast that was one as I tuned in to my senses that were suddenly tingling. There was discomfort in my stomach, a gripping of the steering wheel.
And suddenly I realized that I was driving past the past site of one of my undergraduate internships. A massive insurance company for whom I worked in their life insurance correspondence department. I received requests for verification of things like beneficiaries, policy value, etc. And also to notify them of when their policy had lapsed, the difference between term life and universal, and why their value was so much less than they expected.
I hated it. And with just a turn down the road, my body remembered all those tortured, stressed drives. This was before I had the vocabulary and awareness to really understand what that place was–a toxic workplace–and that I was a seriously disengaged employee and stressed out empath.
While I was able to recognize these feelings as they arose, they didn’t dissipate like negativity sometimes does when you can recognize it for what it is. Instead, I spent my infrared sauna appointment not relaxing in the heat, but remembering the tense moments and feelings of that place.
I never really made friends there, and usually ate lunches in my car to avoid the cliquey cafeteria. There were layoffs every other week, it seemed, and if I did meet someone cool, there always seemed to be a reserved vibe to them after they found out I was interning. It seems they laid off people often and brought in interns to help with the workload. We were constantly under pressure to *work through the queue!* and to wear jeans you had to get a casual day badge, which were doled out in ways I never really cared enough to look into.
I. Hated. It.
Maybe worst of all, I’m still ashamed to say, that my hatred showed up in my work. It was hard for me to be super detail oriented, to remember to always request the microfiche (YES that was a THING) and do the manual math required to calculate interest and payments and dates and all that. I didn’t understand the differences and unique things to look for in all the types of policies or which systems housed that information if the policy came from a company they had absorbed. I had the words my mom would always say ringing in my head when faced with something I didn’t want to do:
Make it a challenge!
But it didn’t work here. I remembered the mental torture of it as I sat in the sauna, and the anxiety crept back again. Worrying if I had checked enough sources to verify the beneficiary. Had I calculated the interest to the thousandth of a cent and did I round the right way? These were the things that kept me up at night, and that stayed on my mind all through the day. It snowballed. Throughout the day I had other random moments where other incidents, where I felt I had let people down, not lived up to my commitments, came into my mind. Moments where I felt like a failure. Once I started falling down that rabbit hole, it was impossible to stop.
Facing Imposter Syndrome
That night, I went through my emails and opened one of my favorite newsletters, NY Times Smarter Living. And what would that day’s topic be, you might ask? Failure resumes.
Essentially, cataloguing all the failures. All the rejection, harsh criticism, mistakes, errors, everything that one might consider to be a *failure* in the scope of their life. After doing mine, I realized a few things:
- I hadn’t let down as many people as I thought I had
- I could glean exactly what I had learned from each failure
Best of all: I could see how far I had come in my career, and I actually felt really good about the things I had accomplished. It’s like the antidote to imposter syndrome. More truth that, as a journalling exercise, it is good for mental health. It’s another way to flex emotional metabolism.
It’s hardly a new revelation to say that failure is just one step toward success. But sometimes, for me at least, it’s easier to see my self on the road to constant improvement.