25 August 2014

On panic attacks, failures and making my own destiny.

I've sat on this post for a while now, stopping and starting - worried that it would be bordering on vague blogging, or that it's too risky to post. But as usual, the power of writing won out. It's really therapeutic.


I recently had my first panic attack. A mini breakdown I guess you could call it. I won't go into the details of why but I can say that I felt so unhappy, so inadequate and devalued that I just couldn't face the day. It was awful - I couldn't breathe and couldn't control my crying. I felt like I'd failed at something I was really good at and enjoyed. And I grieved - even resented - that loss.

I felt like I failed. I felt like I couldn't stick through a tough time, like I gave up too easily. I worried that I put my happiness before a necessity. I really beat myself up.

I'm not proclaiming to know what regular anxiety is like, nor how to overcome it, but I do recommend talking to someone to help you through - a professional counsellor, a helpline or a trusted friend or family member.

Through the help of a counsellor, and some great support around me, I got through it. And I'm in a good space now. A happy one and I feel like I'm kicking goals - and most importantly to me - very supported, valued and respected. I still worry, things are still uncertain. But I'm ok.

How did I get there? I made a plan of where to next, and reflected on my many strengths and achievements. I also put together a presentation for a group of young people starting out in their careers - the preso was about when I've felt I've failed and how I got through.

Doing all of this was really reassuring. I came out of these activities feeling better about myself - accomplished even, and like I'd learnt something on my journey that I could pass on to others finding their feet in the world.

So I want to pass some of what I've learnt onto you.

My career path: what I've learnt

  • Don’t let your day job define me
  • Know career paths don’t have to be hierarchal
  • Know that what I do outside of my day job can develop transferrable skills to bring into my day job
  • Seek lots of opportunities to develop my skills, knowledge and networks.

How do I cope with set backs, disappointments and failure?

  • Creativity as an outlet - I write to process thoughts, to feel a part of a community, to put my skills to use, to follow my dream
  • Know that failure doesn’t define me
  • Seek mentors
  • Give it a go – don’t let preconceptions or low expectations or past failures stop me
  • Look after myself.

I wrote a blog post on perfection versus excellence years ago, in the midst of university when I didn't want to be anything less than perfect in my studies. My then manager talked me through this unrealistic expectation of myself and wanted me to define perfection and then excellence. This is what I came up with.

“Perfection is when you are completely satisfied with the end product and you don't think it needs refining.

And excellence is when your audience is satisfied with your end product.”

Read that post here.

I also think back to this beautiful quote by Erin Hansen who writes poetry under the alias of The Poetic Underground.

"What if I fall?”

"Oh my darling, 
What if you fly?"

And Seth Godin's wisdom has helped me too:

"But what if I fail?"

“You will.

The answer to the what if question is, you will.

A better question might be, "after I fail, what then?"

Well, if you've chosen well, after you fail you will be one step closer to succeeding, you will be wiser and stronger and you almost certainly will be more respected by all of those that are afraid to try.”

How have I changed my direction when things haven't gone according to plan?

Right now I feel that there's a great uncertainty hanging over the sector I work in uncertainty so it is up to me to make my own destiny. This is what I've done:

  • Surrounded myself with people who support me
  • Talked to others about opportunities - everywhere!
  • Written down my goals – being accountable can make them a reality
  • Talked to a counsellor
  • Know my limits and be honest to others and myself about them
  • Take control of the change that’s happening around me - rather than let it control me.

For a long time - and especially since I've been doing more freelance work - I've felt like a square peg in a round hole. Numbers and law wasn't for me and at the start of my corporate career I found myself working at that, hopelessly. I finally found my niche, but I know I want more. It's lucky I can do both corporate and freelance work - at the expense of being very tired though!

I love this advice from Cheryl, about being a square peg in a round hole:

“Look at the job descriptions for roles you would love to do and undertake a skills gaps analysis – what skills do you have that will transition well into those roles (a common one is excellent resource management whether that’s people, costs or time) and where do you need to develop? Can you use your current role to develop any skills you’re currently missing or work on them on the side? Are there courses or classes you need to enrol in?”

See that amazing post on Business Chic.


It has been a tough time after my holiday ended. Really tough. My confidence was shaken and I was ready to walk further away than I did. But it's taught me so much. It's made me realise what motivates me and makes me happy, and that I need to continue to make my own destiny. And I've learnt that doing things for my own happiness above necessity and expectation of others is ok.

Also, it's ok to say you're not coping, to cry and to ask for and accept the help of others. Because even if you feel like a failure in that moment, chances are, you'll succeed at what you're good at when you're given the chance and given the right support.

How you doing? Do you struggle too?

What path are you paving?




  1. Having always been stuck in contract work, I've never been able to develop my identity around a job. Which is probably good in some ways. But I'll tell you, it doesn't make the changes much easier. Living with uncertainty is hard. Even for those with practise in it.

  2. Great post Carly, I love and agree with this comment 'And I've learnt that doing things for my own happiness above necessity and expectation of others is ok'. A great realisation. Seth Godin's wisdom is excellent especially for building resilience in children. Thanks for the read, x Deb

  3. Life is uncertain for sure. You are a motivation for many. Be kind to Carly and seek time to rest. You are amazing

  4. Oh friend, Panic attacks are the pits. I am pleased that you have moved on from whatever it was that made you feel that way.
    I hope that your list also includes, 'being nice to myself' x

  5. Oh I struggle. Currently applying for jobs, and taking so many knocks :(

  6. I love the idea of crossing skills you learn from your day job into life in general - it's a good feeling when things come together. Very brave and motivating post. Thank you for sharing


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