Only Thing Holding Me Back is Ergophobia

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Of course there is a Dilbert cartoon about this.

Ergophobia or ergasiophobia is an abnormal and persistent fear of work (manual labor, non-manual labour, etc.) or finding employment. Ergophobia may also be a subset of either social phobia or performance anxiety. Sufferers of ergophobia experience undue anxiety about the workplace environment even though they realize their fear is irrational. Their fear may actually be a combination of fears, such as fear of failing at assigned tasks, speaking before groups at work (both of which are types of performance anxiety), socializing with co-workers (a type of social phobia), and other fears of emotional, psychological and/or physiological injuries.[1]

The term ergophobia comes from the Greek “ergon” (work) and “phobos” (fear). (Source: Wikipedia)

I’ve realized my career problem isn’t as simple as a fear of being fired (although that’s a major part of it). I’m now afraid of having a job, period. Having a job means losing a job. Losing a job means personal failure. Specifically, failure as a person.

This week I was in a professional training class and it was the most stress free few days I’ve had since temping at this job. It makes sense. Being in that class wasn’t just about learning a new and very useful skill, it was a way to avoid my fear of working.

Once I was back in the office, I became overwhelmed by my paralyzing fear of work.

I have about 11 years of work experience. I have been laid off, downsized, let go, and left to pursue other opportunities. If there’s a corporate euphemism for losing a job, chances are it’s happened to me and it’s about to happen to me again (although at least this job was never intended to be permanent — whatever that means these days).

My longest job has lasted four years. I realized all jobs come to an end, even those that are your calling. It’s frustrating to have a decent number of diverse jobs under my belt and still be so scared of losing my job. I’m not even this scared of dying!

This fear of work as real for me as your fear of snakes or clowns is for you. The difference is that your fear is acceptable. Everyone can understand your fear. Snakes and clowns are creepy and have been featured in countless horror movies. You’re supposed to be afraid of snakes and clowns. You are not supposed to be afraid of your job, of working. Having a job is a core part of adulthood, so being afraid of a job makes you a weak adult. You would think that having a lot of jobs would make the fear go away, but it doesn’t. This isn’t like being thrown into the ocean to overcome a fear of swimming or base jumping to overcome a fear of heights. More exposure only heightens my fear.

Oddly enough, my fear of work doesn’t make me lazy. One of the few constants in my career is how much people will tell me I’m a hard worker. I will jokingly attribute this to my stodgy Protestant work ethic but in all seriousness, I get a tremendous amount of satisfaction from working long and hard hours. If I get to do that for a project I love, forget about it…

My first post in this blog was about career commitment phobia. Wading deeper into the waters of this problem, it all makes sense now. I’m not afraid of committing to a career path because I’m a flake (that’s not the whole reason, anyway). I’m afraid of committing to a career because all work is scary to me. Instead of accepting that with work comes vulnerability, failure, loss, disapproval, rejection, long stretches of unemployment followed by temporary security and starting over, many, many times. Instead of learning how to cope with my ergophobia in a healthy way, it’s easier just to keep taking jobs without really committing to a career path, because that means not addressing the fear.

Unless I become fabulously and independently wealthy, work will be a part of my life. If I don’t want the fear to come along with it, it means accepting it and addressing it.

It means getting more idealistic about what work actually is and not looking for some false sense of security. It means being honest about the type of work I want to do, even if it means not being seen as traditionally successful or properly adult. It means being honest about being a sensitive mush of a person, whose career map might involve trekking different routes than others who travel on safer, more established ones.

But for now, let it be Friday and let me be free.

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