Anxiety over a new job is a weird game of ‘What’s in the box?’

Anticipation used to be joyful.

I remember being so excited for Christmas Day that I would go to bed and try to make myself sleep at 4 p.m. and magically make Christmas come faster.

It never worked, but the strategy seemed solid at the time.

In middle age, anticipation is dreadful.

Every unknown carries a harbinger of doom.

I’ve anticipated becoming a teacher since I started graduate school in the fall 2020 semester.

By the time these lines are published in the Marion County Express, I’ll have been through two days of orientation.

I’ll at least be on the way.

But right now, three days removed from the job that will likely define the next 20 years of my working life, anxiety tangles my guts in so many knots I can barely cope with even the simplest of daily tasks.

I live with general anxiety disorder.

That’s a fancy way of saying my brain takes all the possibilities of any given change and creates a hypothesis that ends with me dying broke and alone.

When the anxiety really gets a chokehold on me, I’ve already failed at teaching even though I haven’t stood before a class for a single minute.

I’m already evicted from my apartment and begging for temporary housing at the YMCA downtown even though I haven’t missed a rent payment since I got laid off in 2020.

I know why I’m like this.

Some of it is genetics. My DNA is hardwired to worry.

Some of it is adverse childhood experiences.

I’ve written about those before and don’t care to get into them now.

Some of it is adverse adult experiences. Losing your job three times, going broke, and struggling with crippling arthritis isn’t a kiss on the cheek by the county fair queen by any stretch.

I can hear the chorus of my friends, family and loved ones reassuring me everything will be fine.

Some of the best teachers I’ve ever had have written and called to tell me they think I’ve got the right stuff.

Still, my mind wanders, and the worries move in.

I don’t remember when my mind turned this way.

When I was a boy anticipating presents on Christmas, I never assumed the boxes would be filled with onion peels and asparagus stems.

The worst I would have to endure was socks and underwear.

But as an adult, I worry every box will end up like the one at the end of Seven. (If you don’t get that reference, Google the plot of the 1995 movie. Yes, my brain goes there.)

Listen, I know all this kvetching makes no sense. I have a behavioral therapist who helps me.

Most human problems lie in the space between emotional reaction and logical understanding.

Emotionally, I’m freaked out about failing at my new job.

But logically, I haven’t even started that job yet. How could I fail before I even started?

I can’t.

My friend Paul says I should just embrace the mundane.

Watch some M*A*S*H reruns. Eat a nice salad with a burger.

This, too, shall pass.

But, gosh, wouldn’t it be nice if I were squirming with anticipation like Christmas of yesteryear?

Middle school teacher Daniel P. Finney writes a column for the Marion County Express.

Daniel P. Finney wrote for newspapers for 27 years before being laid off in 2020. He teaches middle school English now. He writes columns and podcasts for, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating $10 a month to help him cover the expenses of this site.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.


  1. Donna Johns says:

    When every negative possibility rears its ugly head, covering the space of months or years in a matter of minutes, it’s just fantastical thinking. I have confidence in your ability to cope one step at a time…like real life.


  2. Karen says:

    I know that it’s difficult, but try to think to the end of your first week of teaching because once you get that under your belt, you will be just fine. You’ll be so deep into the teaching mode and all the possibilities it brings and the wonderful ideas you have every day about how to tweak each lesson to make it better and reach just one more young mind, that you will hardly have time for anything else. Very excited to have you start this new phase of your life! You’ll be great!


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