advertisement
advertisement

I had to quit my dream job at Google because of anxiety. Here’s what I learned

Ami Lebendiker reveals how every time he had a panic attack, he would hide it from his colleagues, boss, and other team members: ‘I felt ashamed.’

I had to quit my dream job at Google because of anxiety. Here’s what I learned
[Photo: Alex Green/Pexels]

In 2012, I got a job at Google, and it was the happiest point in my career thus far. I went from being a broke student in London to enjoying free lunches and massages in Silicon Valley. I’d looked up to the company for years, had followed its products, and always dreamed of being part of the team that built such incredible things.  

advertisement
advertisement

The job wasn’t easy, though. I was in a uniquely difficult position there, helping to lead a new program in uncharted territory, and was fighting fires on a regular basis. I worked a 14-hour day between commuting from Oakland to the office in Mountain View. Like most teams at Google, I was working on a global schedule, which meant I had to cover Asian, European, and American time zones. It felt like I was never not working. 

After an unplanned eye surgery put me out of commission for a month (right before the pandemic), I came back to work woefully behind and started working even longer hours to compensate. Like everyone else adjusting to the global crisis, I had stress levels compounded to a new high, which quickly became full-blown anxiety.  

I stopped sleeping well, eating well, and exercising. I started fading away from friends and family. I was locked in my house, just working day and night. My first panic attack happened in the middle of a work meeting. Thankfully, with video calls, you can mute and turn off the camera. But the attacks started happening more and more often. 

advertisement
advertisement

I went to see a psychiatrist and got diagnosed with anxiety. I started taking medications, which helped to some extent. But there were days when the meds put me in a state of feeling so mentally checked out, I couldn’t do any meaningful work. Plus, to remain on these medications required a doctor visit every few weeks. Which meant more work time lost, and some days, I was just too anxious to work at all.  

I also started going to therapy twice a week, which was its own part-time job. Finding a provider in-network, who I connected with, meant they were up to an hour away. Between doctors’ appointments, therapy, medication side effects and commuting, I was getting more and more behind at work, and I had less and less time where I was available and in an appropriate mental state to make any progress on it. This only stressed me out more.  

As the months wore on, I noticed that everyone at work started saying how stressed out they were, how little time they had. I saw the same panicked expressions and restless fidgeting that I was having. It was as though my anxiety had been contagious, and they’d all caught it somehow; and now, their anxiousness was making me more anxious. The effects were compounding on themselves.  

advertisement

And so every time I had a panic attack, I would hide it from my colleagues, boss, and other team members. I felt ashamed, not just because mental health issues still carry so much stigma in our work cultures, but also because I didn’t want to stress out my colleagues further. In a way, I was trying to hide my anxiety from myself, and shield myself from perhaps the most disappointing realization of all: I wasn’t able to handle my dream job.  

Finally, after 18 months of this, I put in my resignation. It wasn’t fair to me or my team to continue to suffer, and I needed to take care of my health before I would be able to make any sort of meaningful contribution to the projects I cared so much about.  

Though I’d thought my career was down for the count, it turned out to be the best thing I could’ve done for it. I was able to get my health back on track, to an even better place than before I started having panic attacks. I was sleeping well, able to get off my medications, and even get back to work.  

advertisement

Here’s what I’ve learned about managing anxiety in your career: First, stable mental health is a prerequisite to work. Block off time for your well-being on a private calendar and then fill in work and meetings around this. So whether that’s to get some exercise, meditate, rest, go to therapy, eat a nutritious meal, whatever it entails—all the time you need to take care of yourself is accounted for. By nature, this means you might move at a slower pace—and with the rising rates of burnout and anxiety, this is something Silicon Valley may have to get used to.   

In the same vein, be aware of what triggers you and your colleagues. Check in to make sure that the workflow isn’t creating additional stress for people—eg. last-minute meetings, too many Slacks, having to show up on different time zones, etc.  

Talk openly about how you’re coping with your work—or not. Let your colleagues know to speak up whenever any of you is feeling overwhelmed and need to back off the pace, or when something is bothering you and needs to be addressed. By being transparent about our mental health, we can remove much of the shame, guilt, and stigma, and truly do our best work.  

advertisement

That leads me to the biggest lesson I’ve learned from my anxiety: Most of us have something that is keeping us from doing our best work, and we’re too afraid to say what that is. We’re all afraid to let it own us, overshadow our accomplishments, or take away our dream jobs entirely. 


Ami Lebendiker is the cofounder and CEO of mental health tech startup Roga.  


advertisement
advertisement