The Five Stages of Professional Anxiety

In my experience, there are five stages of anxiety with regard to how you feel about any particular task you’ve taken on.

1) Complete Newb: Can I even do this at all?
2) Novice: OK, I can do this, but will I ever be any good at it?
3) Journeyman: I’m pretty good at it, I think, but will I ever get to the stage where I’m not worrying about how good I am?
4) Professional: How good is my project?
5) Master: How do I keep from being a dick?

I can’t say I’ve ever reached Master status at anything, so I’m only guessing about the Master’s anxiety. I have, however, become a professional programmer, and I plan to become a professional writer.

I went through the first three stages while I was learning to program and trying to become a professional. Those stages were horrid. I hated them. You feel like a child, to some degree, all the way through.

Once I became a professional, once I proved to myself I could produce and produce well, the fears that dominate the first three stages fell away. Oh, you still wonder on occasion if you’re a fraud. You still have to learn and get better, but it’s no longer your primary fear during the day. Your primary concern morphs from yourself to concern about your current project, and you just sit down and do the job.

I’m going through the same progression as a writer, and I hate it. But this time, since I know what I went through to become a programmer, I can look back and compare the two and see the progression. I know what’s coming, even if I’m not sure when. I can tell myself to stop worrying and just work, that at some point, after I’ve sold enough of my writing, that the fear of being an utter failure will fall away, to be replaced only by concerns of the current project.

I can’t wait until I get there, because no matter how often I tell myself to stop worrying and just work on it, I still worry.

2 thoughts on “The Five Stages of Professional Anxiety”

  1. I’m definitely in stage 3. I think I’m good at it, but I wonder if I’m fooling myself–still looking for that external validation. The thing is, so many writers think their work is great, at least good enough to be published… maybe even good enough to be a bestseller. So, I add myself to that pile of authors. 🙂

    We can’t deny there are quite a few writers out there who are less than successful. So then I’m back to that question again. Am I fooling myself? 🙂

    The crazy circle. So how do you go from stage 3 to stage 4?

  2. With my programming, it just happened. Lots of programming and making money at it. At some point, I realized I no longer worried about whether I was really making the grade. I wouldn’t be surprised if the answer is something like “several years of making a living doing whatever it is that you want to to do”.

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