Does this sound familiar?
You don’t want to get out of bed, you don’t want to be around anyone, and every move you make seems like a mistake. Then, to top it off, as you’re pushing your covers back, ready to force yourself through the day, you remember there are meetings you need to lead today. Falling back onto the pillow you feel the tears pricking at your eyes, and those thoughts that have haunted you for years start to come back.
You’re not good enough for this. You can hardly get yourself through the day, do you believe you can lead something? You should probably text someone and see if they can run the meeting, they would do much better. It’s not like you have anything to contribute anyway.
All right, we can end that lovely trip down memory lane now. I hate to say it, but this is how many of my mornings started over the past few years. I am sure there are leaders like me who struggle with depression too. And I’m positive they’ve had similar experiences.
Two things are never easy: leadership and depression. Put them together, and they feel downright impossible. When you are in leadership, you have a ton of responsibility on your shoulders, and you will likely feel inadequate to do your job most of the time. With depression, there will be days when you feel like you can’t hold yourself together to even get to class or work, and there will be times when you feel inadequate to do, well, life.
When I began to take on various leadership roles throughout my life, my depression made me feel as though I had no right even to attempt to lead something. If I was having a bad day, I felt like I had to hide it, and hold everything in, so that no one would find out and question if I was fit for the job. Then, because I had to hide it, I felt like a fraud who should not be allowed to lead.
There were days I didn’t want to be around anyone; each day seemed like a losing battle to find joy, I felt I was the last person who could do the job right. There were many times I thought I should just give up.
The Self-fulfilling Prophecy
Not only was that way of thinking incorrect, but it also became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When I believe that I’ll mess something up because of my depression, I do everything possible to hide my illness and not let it get in the way. Then because I am focusing so much on not letting my depression get the best of me, I act as though my job is pretending I am doing great, rather than leading my team. Then when things go wrong, I lash out at my teammates or myself. And then more things start to go wrong.
So because I was focusing all my energy on not letting my depression get in the way, it became the only thing on my mind. As a result, I and ended up doing what I was trying to prevent.
I’ve since learned that I can avoid all this by not attempting to hide my depression. Instead, I’m learning to lead despite my illness.
There is a total of 0 perfect leaders in the entire world. If chosen for leadership, I can guarantee you weren’t selected because you are perfect. No one but you expects you to be perfect. No one but you requires an error free life as a pre-requisite for the role.
You have to understand this, because it is so, so awesome. It is okay to mess up. It’s okay to have a bad day and not know what to do about it. That’s fine. But please know that your depression and anxiety can be strong one day, and you can still be an even stronger and qualified leader despite it. You are going to have weaknesses, but everyone you are leading, and everyone who put you in that leadership position, expect you to to be imperfect. Feel relief from that. Let that fact be freeing for you.
Be Open, Take Control
Ask yourself if it’s possible for you to be open about your struggles. Not everyone’s career allows for that, but often being open about your struggles can be a sign of excellent leadership.
In every leadership position I take, there’s been at least one time (if not many) when I feel completely weighed down by my depression. Most of the time my worst days are the days I need to run something important.
I used to start off these days figuring out how to hide my struggles to do the job well. (I’ve already told you how that works out for me.)
But now I do something else entirely. I prepare for the job, I show up on time and start it off by telling the people there that I am struggling with my depression. Granted, this is a lot easier said than done, but is so, so worth it if you can pull it off.
You don’t let the fact you are struggling be a focal point throughout the meeting, but by saying it first, you are getting it out of the way, and retaking control from the illness.
You do have the power to retake control. You simply need to have enough faith in yourself to do it.
You’re Leading for a Reason
Anytime we find ourselves in a position of leadership; we have been put there for a reason. You are qualified for this position, and the people who put you there believe you have something important to contribute. Even if you are in charge of something because you are the one who started it, you are there because of your passion and vision for whatever it is. There is no one better fit for the job than you even if, to do that job, you sometimes need help.
That’s why we have teams. Where we are weak others can make us stronger, and so that when we have bad days, others can help get us through it. Remind yourself of that every time you think your depression or anxiety makes you underqualified for the position.
I took on my biggest leadership position to date on a day when I felt especially inadequate. I went to my predecessor to question my involvement. I asked, “What made you think I was qualified enough for this role? Even with my anxiety and depression?”
With a bit of a laugh, he replied with words that I’ll always keep with me.
“We didn’t think you were qualified enough for this role,” he said.
“You’re going to mess up, and we know that. But we thought you were the best fit to lead this team despite that. We believe you’re going to do a great job. You just need to believe that yourself.”
No one expects us to be perfect. We must to do our best and trust ourselves even when we do screw up. But know there are those who believe in you, even when you’re struggling, you just got to figure out how to believe in yourself.
Fellow leaders with depression, like me, are rooting for you. Keep going, keep moving forward, and take joy and comfort from the fact that you don’t have to be perfect today.
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