Brian Lee


Overcoming Anxiety

I live in my head most of the time. As I mentioned earlier, I spend a significant amount of time alone, and my daily routine naturally leads to thinking about anything and everything. I am also introspective. If you are like me, I bet you are likely an anxious person, too.

I deal with anxiety even though I have a fanatical belief in myself and my ideas. Jordan Peterson’s personality test, Understand Myself, showed that I have zero agreeableness — it’s both good and bad. In other words, I completely commit to my identity and ideas. Even then, I still battle with self-doubt and anxious thoughts about my vision, goals, money, and more. There have been many sleepless nights over trivial matters, although I rarely express those days to people around me. I’ve always wanted to find ways to overcome anxiety, and I am starting to develop a method that works for me.

Clearly Define the Worst-Case Scenario

Being a software engineer, I am used to thinking about worst-case scenarios because it is my professional duty to handle them. When I clearly define the worst-case scenarios in my work, I feel comfortable knowing that either I am prepared for them, or the potential problems aren’t as bad as they seem. Tim Ferriss advises the same in his book, The 4-Hour Workweek. We get scared thinking about potential risks and impacts when we consider going against the grain and exploring alternative options, like working remotely from another country. He recommends that you define the worst-case scenarios and how you might overcome them. Often, these worst-case scenarios have moderate, temporary impacts.

For example, when I decided to leave Amazon in early 2023, all I knew was that I had enough money to live comfortably for the next 2-3 years while I looked at starting my own business. I had no guarantee that I would succeed. I had no guarantee that I could make the money last. It took another 2-3 months after leaving work to calm my anxieties down. I told myself, “Hey, I am committed to this. There’s no point in wasting my energy on something I can recover from by finding another software job, even though I wouldn’t enjoy it much. This opportunity is a gift, and I must embrace all I can.”

As soon as I started to focus on moving forward, I saw that managing my portfolio well allowed me to explore my ideas without any strings attached. I have never been so fulfilled, working on projects and pursuing all of my interests.

Focus on Finding Solutions

For me, uncertainty is the biggest source of anxiety. One way this manifests is when I work on a task with no clear end in sight. It makes me anxious when I can’t set a target completion date because it disrupts my schedule for the next two weeks or so. To combat this, I always ask for deadlines from myself and others, and my usual follow-up is, “All I ask is that you be on time.” Please keep in mind that I rarely expect all deadlines to be met. In fact, I anticipate missing some deadlines. However, I believe that having target dates makes us use our time effectively. The principle of setting expectations, even vague ones, applies to managing all uncertainties.

Further, I think that given any problem, we can tame it by focusing on finding a solution. A task sounds daunting and unmanageable when you say, “I don’t know how to do this.” This quickly changes when you adopt the attitude, “What is the easiest thing I can do to solve this problem?” and start looking at the most manageable solutions. For example, I started working on a software product using artificial intelligence without any experience in the field. The feedback I received on my idea from friends and professionals was great, but I didn’t know where to start. I asked myself, “What is one core feature that must work?” The answer was, “The software must be able to process images using AI.” So, I learned to work with OpenAI over time with the help of ChatGPT and online resources. I eventually found an AI expert to consult on the product, and I am making progress toward my goals. Focusing on solutions is very empowering.

Copyright 2024, Brian Lee