05/14/2008 05:12 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

How To Cope With Performance Anxiety

Dear Christine,

What advice do you have when it comes to coping with high demand jobs? I'm in the fashion world as an assistant photographer, but I'm doubting myself and my future when it comes to my performance since I feel everyone expects so much. I do love the creativity and what the job entails, but sometimes it can be too much, as with any job. Are there any ways to cope when in such a fast-paced, high-stress industry? - A passionate 24-year-old trying to free himself from himself so he can finally live his dreams!

Dear Passionate,

From college graduation until about the age of 26, I worked in the entertainment industry. I started as an assistant at a talent agency (think Lloyd on Entourage) and eventually worked my way up to becoming a Television Literary Manager at one of the big firms in Hollywood. And I was miserable. I felt like I was at work 24/7. Even when I wasn't physically there, my job was constantly on my mind. I worked twelve to fourteen hours a day and when I'd walk out of the office at 9pm, there would still be other people there! It was almost like there was a badge of honor for the person who stayed the latest.

Certain industries, like entertainment, music, fashion, finance, law, and the medical field (and I'm sure I'm leaving some out) have a reputation for being fast-paced and high stress along with a "given" that anyone who works in these fields is expected to pay their dues by basically giving up their life and putting up with senior people in their industries treating them like crap because at one point they too paid their dues and now it's payback.

What keeps people in these industries? Pure ambition. And most people who "make it" in the pressure cooker industries are Type A and thrive on the adrenaline rush. Also, the industries that come with the "you don't really think you are going to be able to have a life and still make it in this business" expectation usually lead people to believe in a big pay-off. Fantasies of wealth, fame, power, and childhood dreams come true justify the stress. I'll admit I used to visualize myself giving an acceptance speech at the Emmys for some fabulous TV show I helped create, hoping all the girls who teased me in high school and all the guys who broke my heart would be watching. But those fantasies of sweet revenge were not enough to sustain me.

How did I cope? Denial, commiserating with other burnt out people, and when/then thinking (i.e. "When I'm promoted and making a lot of money, then all this stress will be worth it"). But it didn't sustain me for long. I quit. I left the industry all together and went down a very different path with lots of bumps, twists, turns, and dead-ends. But I knew I did not have enough passion for the entertainment industry to match what it demanded.

So the first thing you have to be absolutely sure of is how badly you want to work in the fashion business. If you want it badly enough and you love it, then you have to re-frame how you think of the pressure and stress. Focus on the things you like about your job, like creativity.

In terms of the performance anxiety, you are in an industry that does not pass out gold stars. Better than excellent is expected; it's the culture of any high-stress industry. The only coping skill that really works is to not take things personally and see every critique as an opportunity to learn and hone your craft.

You can also explore if there other types of companies within fashion that are not as high-pressure. There is nothing wrong with making the choice that the New York fashion industry is "too much." But if you want to play with the Big Boys, you are going to have to pay your dues.

Since I chose to leave what was "too much" for me, I reached out to some individuals who are still working in what are stereotypically fast-paced, high-stress industries. In my column next week, I will feature the advice from successful people in the fields of law, medicine, finance, fashion, music and television.

To be continued . . . * Christine

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