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I was standing in line at the grocery store and my heart suddenly began to race. Unaware of what was happening to me, I felt the blood drain from my face as grabbed hold of my cart so tight that my knuckles turned white.
The line inched forward at a snail’s pace and I willed myself to make it to the checkout, where the clerk was now watching me with a distinct look of concern.
Finally I couldn’t take it any more. I abandoned my cart and ran toward the bathroom where I locked myself in a stall and stared down at my shaking hands, believing that I was about to slip right out of my skin and die on the cold bathroom floor.
This was my first panic attack.
I was a 29-year-old stay at home mom with three kids, all under the age of four. I had struggled with mild anxiety since my teen years, but since having my youngest child, it had become unbearable. Soon I was having panic attacks more frequently, most often in public places.
I saw my panic attacks as a major red flag that something in my life needed to change. As a result, I began to make a conscious effort to tune in to what I was feeling on a regular basis. As I did this, I came to realize that I wasn’t living my most authentic life. While I loved my children more than anything in this world, the life I had chosen as a stay-at-home mom didn’t feel quite right for me. I wanted more. I had dreams of building a successful career in a field I had yet to uncover.
This was two months before I dreamed up the idea for my first company and the rest is history. What I learned from this part of my life is that anxiety is an import message that we must pay attention to, as it points to the circumstances in our lives that aren’t in alignment with our most authentic selves.
I came to realize that much of my anxiety was due to the fact that I had been going through life wearing a mask. Subconsciously I had convinced myself that the real me would somehow fall short – that underneath the mask, I was just too awkward, not professional enough, not articulate enough, or just not something enough. And so, I’d filter my words relentlessly and avoid social gatherings. I opted to stay at home with children, instead of pursuing my dreams after university. Until one day the anxiety became too much and it became clear that the mask was more harmful than allowing myself to live unfiltered.
I quickly learned that the more I practiced living free of the mask, the easier it became to show my true self and I now know that honoring my authenticity isn’t just a birthright – it’s my divine responsibility.
You can’t be fake and contribute fully to the world.
So how exactly did I put this into practice? Here are a few actionable steps to break out of the bonds of anxiety, and step into a life of authenticity
1| If you don’t understand something – say it!
When I first decided I wanted to start a company, I knew literally nothing about how to start a business. Common terms like “profit-margins” and “gross revenue” where completely foreign to me. I can recall countless situations where I’d be speaking with a supplier or the bank and simply have no idea what they were talking about. While the temptation was there to just move the conversation in another direction, I’ve always forced myself to ask the question. I’ve learned that just because I don’t understand something, it doesn’t mean that I am behind the curve in some way. It simply means that I haven’t been exposed to it yet, and no one should ever feel inferior for stepping into new territory.
2 | Don’t wait until you’re perfect
I was recently at a speaking engagement when a woman raised her hand and asked, “How do you tune out the noise enough to feel like you are good enough?” The noise she was referring to were the voices of criticism not only around us, but also in our own heads. The answer? You don’t. The noise will exist no matter what. You will move forward and you will inevitably be criticized and experience some doubt. You are not a robot – it will hurt! This is normal. What’s important is that you press forward anyway. Don’t wait until you feel ready, or confident, or courageous. Simply DO IT and trust that it will be enough.
3 | Allow yourself to feel
People are surprised when I tell them that whenever I do an interview or speak in public I get nervous. An introvert by nature, public speaking requires a side of me that I don’t always show. I used to spend a lot of energy trying not to be nervous, until I realized that this was actually adding an additional layer of anxiety. I’ve learned that the best way to get through this is to give myself permission to feel whatever I am really feeling. I try not to pressure myself into feeling confident or at ease when I’m clearly not. Instead I allow my feelings to move through me. They never stay, and soon enough I am able to move into a more relaxed and confident space naturally and authentically.
4 | Resist the urge to copy
It’s easy as an entrepreneur to fall into the trap of seeing someone else’s product or website and wanting yours to look exactly the same. In fact, one of the best ways to start developing your brand’s image is to first look around at what’s already succeeding in the marketplace. But whatever you do, resist the urge to copy! No matter how good you are at mimicking another person or product, yours will never be quite the same. Nor would you want it to. One of your greatest strengths is that you are entirely unique, and if someone tried to copy you, they would also fall short. So instead, get inspired. Turn to other brands to help guide you along your journey, but whatever you do, you must remain authentic to you or your customers will sense it.
5 | Say what’s on your mind – with love
So much anxiety is caused by not saying what we actually mean. Instead we walk around with a constant filter, aiming to say only what we think others want to hear. But the truth is, even with the filter, we will upset some people, while others will love us no matter what. Either way, it has very little to do with us. So dare to drop the filter and speak your truth with love and kindness.