Of all the things we’ve likely learned these past few years, the fact that we all can (and likely do) experience anxiety at one time or another may be one of the biggest lessons. I have, however, learned to somewhat enjoy my anxieties as I learn to live alongside them.

Jessie Pavelka selfie and team behind him at dinner table.

I recently joined the Pavelka team as part of the Cisco Degree-Apprenticeship. Jessie Pavelka, a fitness trainer in the United States, has partnered with Cisco on their wellness program incorporating his Four Elements: eat, sweat, think, and connect to live your best and most fulfilling life. I love all these elements, but the Connect Element is one I wanted to make a priority as I feel the past few years has us all struggling to connect and the more we do so – the less our minds go into an anxious overdrive.

For me, a prime example of this happened at the train station on a busy Thursday morning.

Everyone was rushing about, with their heads down to their purposeful destination. I felt a bit like The Lion King’s Simba – a lion cub surrounded by galloping wildebeest pounding forth. As I was swept along, I fumbled clumsily with my train ticket. Just how many pockets did I have? After I’d finally clutched it like I’d found Willy Wonka’s golden ticket, I faced up to the ticket machine gate. I put the ticket in.

It didn’t work.

There I was, stuck at the very front of the queue, blocking the way with a large suitcase, panicking. I desperately tried the ticket one more time, feeling the glare of the frustrated crowd waiting behind me, but again, the doors stayed firmly shut.

I looked to find someone who might be able to help, but of course, the ticket agent was manning the machine furthest from me. Preparing myself to cut across the stampede, I felt the prickle of anxiety creep up my neck. I took a deep breath, muttered ‘excuse me’ – and that’s when it happened.

I made shared, panicked eye contact with the man on the machine next to me.

The stress on his face was that of someone who had the same fate … stuck, with an uncooperative ticket. Yet, the relief gained once we made eye contact and realised that we were in it together was so great that we burst out laughing.

There it was, we had connected. That simple moment was all we needed to confidently navigate our way through the mass of people toward the ticket agent, who finally let us through. We joked the whole way to the train before getting into our separate coaches, but that moment of connection has stayed with me since.

Those anxious feelings also occasionally sneak their way into my work life.

A selfie of Ciara in her Cisco Apprenticeship polo.

That train was taking me to meet my new team in person for the first time. Even though I was excited, in my mind there was a lot to be nervous about, too. Traveling, to begin with, is nerve-wracking. I was also headed to a place I had never been before. Throw in the fact that, after two years of working remotely, I was about to meet my very close-knit team, only having been on the team for two months myself.

It was all a bit overwhelming, honestly.

Once I arrived and walked towards the meeting room doors, I began to take some deep breaths and braced myself. I was one of the first to arrive, and immediately a moment of overthinking fogged my mind, as if I was back in college, “Where would I sit? Too close to the front may seem overly eager, but too far back may reflect passiveness.” Thankfully my mind was quickly quieted as I was embraced in welcoming hugs by the team.

After strategically selecting a seat midway along the table, the meeting began. I noted that I was trying to understand the team dynamics before allowing myself to speak – what if I said something stupid or something so blazingly obvious to the room full of industry experts that I completely disrupted their flow? Imposter syndrome is a friend of anxiety’s – but it was then that I remembered the train ticket moment.

Connecting was the key there, and so connecting with my team would be the only way for me to feel more comfortable and trusting. So, even though my nerves were still simmering, I pushed myself to keep voicing my ideas and opinions and found that in-depth conversations would always follow the points I raised.

I may not be able to beat the British Rail ticket machines, but with the power of connection I feel like I can beat my anxiety when it threatens to hold me back.

How are you continuing to connect?

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Ciara O'Neill


EMEAR Communications