In this fourth of the Lessons from Teaching series, CareerActually contributor Peter Luscombe highlights the importance of perspective-taking in countering workplace anxiety.

Without doubt, more and more in the work force feel pressured – under the pump. There’s escalating job expectations, more criteria for work and performance evaluation, and the feeling of so less time! Ask any student nowadays and they would say the same. In the face of such it’s all too easy to lose focus on yourself and what benefits you.

Keep your eye on the ball – keep in mind what’s important to you

Question: Do you work to live, or live to work?

Optimum answer: I maintain a balance, keeping in mind what’s important to me.

I used to ask my students:

What’s the point in working so hard in class?

Many responses arose – pleasing their parents, getting good results, and simply because it was expected. The first time I asked this question I was amazed because I expected a unanimous –

So, I can get along with what I want.

I was left literally breathless by how many of my students saw matters so different to the way I envisaged. I wanted my students to have a healthy work ethic. One which placed them at the centre of their endeavours and for which they could claim benefit. In other words, they were primarily working for themselves so they could get along in life.

Without this goal foremost, it struck me that maintaining commitment would be an issue because if you do something primarily for another then while you feel short-term good it doesn’t last. There has to be returns for yourself, or what’s the point? The outlook that doing good for another means you feel good about yourself has worth, however, that’s not how you go about an education, getting a job and establishing yourself in life, right?

Unlike job-seekers, and those in the workforce, values clarification and evaluation with my students didn’t take the same intensive and extensive approach. What did happen were regular times of evaluation about what they’d done, how they saw themselves progressing and how they felt they measured against Assessment Criteria. The ACs were always there to guide us. Most importantly, they set their own personal goals and outcomes.

Conferencing with my students often begun with the question:

What is your personal goal with [fill in gap] and how do you think you’re progressing?

With a focus on themselves and their endeavours, then we could set a course. When my students got this outlook a different energy came to their work and in class. They knew the standards I set and within those, and even beyond, set their own. They were working for themselves!

Keep your eye on the ball – stand back to get perspective

Each year, at the start of working with a Year 12 class, I used to place on the whiteboard a timeline. I sought to motivate them as well as see matters within a bigger picture. The shift in perspective from anxiety about what they were to face in days and months ahead to feeling while it was a big deal yet not a big deal gave them a less crowded place to stand – a bigger picture to work within and from.


Getting in, and staying in, too close – caught up in detail – not feeling able to get out from under – holding on too tightly – all leads to anxiety. With anxiety comes even more tunnel vision and you can end up looping within yourself. The simplest way to deal with this is to take a deep breath – take a mindful STOP if that is your personal practice. Even better, and with longer benefits, is to – step away – step out – look at matters from a distance. Re-frame so anxiety presses less in that moment.

There are many ways and means to do this. Many proponents with their own methodology. I don’t think the point is which one you employ. The point is which one works for you! Most salient is that you employ such means when you feel anxious or that you’ve lost perspective.

Keeping your eye on the ball, looking at the bigger picture, most often gets you out of the loop of anxiety – feeling crowded by expectations – and lets you return to your original values of – What’s important to me?