ANXIETY & AMBITION: When You Prioritize Your Career Over Your Personal PeaceBy Ijeoma Nwatu
Apr. 28 2020, Published 3:45 a.m. ET
This article is part of our Anxiety and Ambition series where we explore the hardships and the emotional ambivalence of having anxiety while also wanting to achieve big goals.
It was great until it wasn’t.
Cheya Thousand was on a never-ending rise in her career. The native New Yorker, describes herself as a super workaholic, and it showed. She earned a slew of career opportunities at Macy’s and later Amazon within a few years. Even as her jobs required a lot of travel, often multiple trips within the same week, she maintained her day-to-day responsibilities. The jetset life had it perks but by 2012, Thousand was burnt out.
What led a young, vibrant, and ambitious woman to place her career ahead of her personal peace? What affected her mental health? Could she aggressively pursue professional endeavors and maintain her personal life? These are the types of questions Thousand faced when she realized the impact of her hustle.
A Go-Getter’s Humble Beginnings
Before you can appreciate Thousand’s current life as a Floridian who works remotely, has a certificate in stress management, and a lovable dog, you first have to go to the beginning. Her beginning is really the journey of her mother, who experienced life as a first-generation American with lineage stemming from West Africa.
Thousand was raised by her mother who worked constantly. She was “a latchkey kid who grew up too fast” in Bed-Stuy, a notorious neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York.
“Growing up, I was raised in a very strict single-parent home. I think as a child some of [my mother’s] anxiety about life was transferred to me from her upbringing as a first-generation African-American. I also experienced a lot of loss at a young age. By the time I was 15, I lost all the males in my family for whom I had a really close relationship. I think these experiences have shaped my view of anxiety and ambition greatly!”
Dr. Angela Neal-Barnett, a professor of psychology at Kent University explains how anxiety looks differently for women of color.
“If they have anxiety, it is often more intense and more chronic [versus white women]. Racism plays a role in anxiety. Racism is a chronic stressor. For Black professional woman, they believe they have to be twice as a good to go twice as far.”
Dr. Angela Neal-Barnett
Thousand is very independent and wanted to provide for herself from an early age.
“I used to have dreams of going to college and being supported by my family and when that didn’t happen it created a shift in me. My biggest anxiety comes from never wanting to feel trapped in any place or situation as a result of my ambition and that next thing. I remember being in college and almost having a nervous breakdown because of a test grade and thinking my GPA was going to fall below a 3.0. At the time I had four jobs and was a full-time student and never had enough money to support myself. I had to go see the school counselor as a result. It made me anxious to think I would not be able to finish school and would always have to live that way.”
How Anxiety Affected Her Relationships
Pre-therapy and prior to her commitment to managing her anxiety and ambition, Thousand admits she was not in alignment with herself. Overworking had become a normal way to respond to anxiety though it did not offer her physical, spiritual, and creative peace and growth. She regularly chose her successful career over relationships.
“I have consciously made this decision many times as a result of knowing my career will only give me what I put in and relationships are not always within my control. On more than one occasion my anxiety has forced me to self-sabotage my relationships because I thought the other person might have wanted more of my time in which I needed to give to my career.”
She continued, “My anxiety and ambition made me very uncompromising in relationships because I began to think if my partner asked too much of me and my time they didn’t support my dreams or career. I have kept men especially for a time at arm’s length because I thought they might become a distraction or threat to the career and life I was building.”
For so long Thousand says she never had a relationship as part of her plan. Her anxiety made her think if she got the career in a good place then she could focus on the relationship but not both at the same time.
“I had to learn how to balance and know they support not threaten and if they don’t support it is okay to move on.”
A More Relaxed Life
Post-therapy, a sunnier climate, and flexible work arrangement as a recruiter for Apple, Thousand is settling into a new normal; one that includes daily devotions, yoga, and helping others deal with stress.
“I now have the tools and resources to live a balanced life. Over the last five years, I actually started more than one business to help people on the same journey as myself to identify stress and anxiety to avoid burn out.”
These days, Cheya Thousand is not anxious about life decisions and instead focuses on what brings her joy–her dog, friends, and family. It is evident in her voice, demeanor, and candor that Thousand is at peace and is comfortable supporting others in their desire to do the same.
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