When Miss Execumama / # LifeJuice herself Akilah Richards asked me to participate in the online only Emotional Wellness conference, I was flattered, but I initially had no idea what I could possibly contribute to the conversation amongst the other amazing women in the lineup. Still, I said yes, and I’m glad I did because this is one of the most raw, personal posts I’ve ever written. I’d love to have you join the conversation here and at Execumama.com.
Being a woman isn’t easy. Most of us wear more hats than we can count, and we want to wear them all perfectly. On top of hair coiffed to perfection, no less. Wife. Mother. Business owner. Blogger. Cook. Housekeeper. Chauffeur. Dog walker. We’re expected to do all these jobs and more without complaint or error. I believed this for a long time, but after a while, too large a load will break the camel’s back. When it finally did, I realized something.
I reject the idea of perfection, because the truth no one tells you is that it doesn’t exist.
Back in 2007 when I first took the leap into working for myself, the idea of wearing all those hats scared me. I knew that there was no way I’d be able to wear them all for an equal amount of time or give each the attention it deserved. Turns out, I was right.
While I focused on building my brand and businesses, I was silently torturing myself for neglecting everything else. My husband complained that I wasn’t spending enough time with him. I beat myself up for not spending enough time with my daughter, who was then a toddler. I hated that I didn’t have the energy to cook most nights and the house wasn’t as clean as I wanted it to be, and I wasn’t the stereotypical homemaker. Meanwhile, I was answering questions from people who watched from afar about how I “managed to do it all.” After a year or two of this, I was exhausted and miserable. I had finally reached a point where I had to do something, because I couldn’t go on like I had been. So you know what I did?
Instead, I just let go for the sake of my emotional health. I let go of the idea that I could do it all, because I couldn’t. I erased the goal of “perfection” in all aspects of my life, because I understood that I could never reach it. I accepted the fact that I would have be flexible enough to shift my focus where it was needed at the time, without beating myself up about everything else that I wasn’t doing. And I gave myself permission to be where I am today, and if I make a mistake, to do better tomorrow.
Once I shifted my perspective this way, I finally began to breathe. To live. And the only way I’ve been able to maintain any sort of emotional balance in the years since has been to constantly remind myself that perfection isn’t necessary for happiness. The only requirement is accepting that what I’m doing right now is good enough.
But there are still some things…
That’s not to say I don’t have challenges, two of which I’m about to lay bare for you. My biggest areas of struggle are fear and growth. Both of these manifest themselves as a singular problem: social anxiety.
See, I’m not a social person by nature. At least not in real life. I’m great at conversations on Facebook and Twitter, and I love writing what I want, when I want. I tend to prefer the solitude of working alone and via the relative anonymity of the Internet where I can make friends from afar and my voice and words are my identity.
So what’s the problem? Well, my job is such that clients often want to hear my voice or see my face via Skype. And I hate it. I truly dislike talking on the phone and hate talking face to face even more, because there’s a small part of me that harbors an irrational fear of personal interactions. Hard to believe? Its hard to admit, too.
That’s because I push myself to talk to clients anyway. I have no choice, as I must learn and grow and get comfortable with the things that make me uncomfortable. And in my experience, the only way to make that happen is to DO those things. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I don’t.
I’m still a work in progress when it comes to in-person meetings and events. When I first learn about an event, trip, conference, etc., I get excited about the things I can learn and the people with whom I’ll get to interact and on whom I’ll get to make an impression. But then the date of that event gets closer and closer, and I get more and more nervous. I think about my weight and my clothes and my hair and my teeth and a million other ridiculous reasons why I “can’t”, until I completely talk myself out of going.
This issue has reared it’s ugly head on many occasions and resulted in a lot of lost opportunities, from trips to networking events to TV appearances. It’s the reason I live in the same city as so many amazing women who I love, but never see (including Akilah, Denene, Renee, and others). And the worst part is that when I AM able to overcome my initial anxiety and just step out the door and GO DO, all the anxiety melts away. I get comfortable being me: outspoken, but never disrespectful, talkative, but not to a fault. Without fail, I always realize I was worried for nothing.
But still, this anxiety shows up again and again.
I’ve been doing better with this over the years, but I still fight with it today — as recently as this past weekend when I talked myself out of going to an event that not only would have benefited me, but which would have benefited this blog and a growing passion of mine tremendously. But I didn’t go. And I still can’t logically explain why. I almost let it happen again when Akilah asked me to participate in this emotional wellness conference. But I won that battle, because I am here and I am sharing these words.
I’m human, and this is my struggle. It’s the unfortunate chink in the armor that I’ve built up over the years, which has hampered my growth more than I’m willing to let myself admit. But know this: I will continue to fight this internal battle, because whether I like to admit it or not, the only way I’ll ever be able to grow my brands and businesses the way I envision is to get out and do, and be, and live, and learn and meet people so I can help people.
I’m here to help…
At the end of the day, my goal is to help. For years, I aimed to help people learn to respect the Earth and treat it well and how to surround themselves with beautiful things that were created with care and conscientious design. Of late though, I’ve developed another passion: Helping people, myself included, learn to love themselves as they are. To be who they are without fear of what others will think, and to be okay with failure if it helps them learn how to succeed. It’s why I designed these t-shirts:
And you know what? I’m my own first success story. I feel more comfortable with myself now than I have in a very long time, and that’s allowed me to steer others in a similar direction.
I do that by sharing my personal struggles as openly and honestly as I can. I lead by example and aim to inspire not just with my words, but with my actions. I prefer not to preach, but to demonstrate, the good and the bad. The easy and the difficult. Because I fail sometimes too, and I’m not afraid to admit it.
What I’ve found is that the people I interact with are much more receptive to the story of my journey to a better self than me telling them what to do or how to live from somewhere up on a high horse surrounded by a false veil of perfection. This transparency breaks down walls and allows people to let me in, so I can do what I do best: prove that the things I say are possible.
So though parts of my story are full of struggle and other parts full of triumph, I do my best to share it all openly and honestly. Because that’s what connects with people, and it’s the only way I know how to help. But I wouldn’t have been able to do any of it if I didn’t find a way to make peace within. This quote says it all:
Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than how you think it should be. — Wayne W. Dyer
I want the same for every woman
I ultimately want every woman to find the same peace I have with who they are and where they are. Today. Because even if we don’t wear all our hats at the same time, it’s really difficult to wear any of them effectively if we don’t love ourselves or find a way to release and escape and do things that we enjoy just for the sake of doing them. We are not our best selves when we’re not emotionally healthy.
I say this from personal experience. While some days are better for me than others, these days, the good far outweigh the bad because I’m actively learning how to channel negative energy into positive thoughts and tasks. Am I always successful? Absolutely not. But I begin every day secure in who I am and full of the knowledge that, for the most part, my attitude controls its outcome. When I’m in a bad place emotionally, that usually leads to a bad day. When I’m in a good place, great things happen. True story.
While emotional wellness is not an overnight process, it’s absolutely a journey worth taking. It’s worth the trial and error that inevitably comes with it. Because the journey culminates in being comfortable with who and where you are, imperfections and all. And that, I have learned, pushes you to not just to be happy, but to want great things for yourself, and to believe that you can actually have them.
What could be more valuable than that?