“So what are you going to do now?”
“I’m not really sure,” I said. It was May 16th. I was sitting in a really uncomfortable tweed upholstered chair in the company’s signature orange hue. It was my last day at work. I was wearing a skirt that practically showed my ass cheeks. Eff it, it’s my last day. I do what I want.
“Well, don’t worry, you’ll figure it out. Fear is a great motivator.”
Right he was. They didn’t make him CEO for nothing. Fear, I did. I feared a lot.
You see, I’m not a risk taker. So leaving my job to start a business that was hovering about six inches above rock bottom was not my normal behavior. But somehow the words, “I’m leaving,” had rolled off my lips, and I began to embark on a journey of riding solo.
As I adjusted to my new lifestyle, I started to get used to certain things like having time to take care of my body. Aching and crooked from years of long days spent in cheap misaligned desk chairs, my back started feeling good again. I suddenly had more mental energy to be social. No longer bogged down by the weight of hours of small talk (the natural-born enemy of all introverts), I actually wanted to spend time with my friends, reach out to long-lost colleagues and class mates and actually make real connections with people once again. I began to realize that I could set the thermostat on WHATEVER THE HELL I WANTED. Goodbye year-round winter wardrobe, I spent the entire summer living in cutoffs and t-shirts.
I loved my new life, and the people who love me really loved me in my new life. I smiled, I had greater capacity to care for others, I loved better. But amidst all the positivity around me and this overwhelming feeling that I was somehow blossoming into this greater, more self-actualized version of myself, Fear was always tapping me on the shoulder, reminding me that what goes up must come down.
I’m not sure if it was a product of my family’s recent relocation to a new city, or puberty, or just a random act of psychosis, but when I was 11, I began displaying strong OCD tendencies. I began to believe that something truly terrible was going to happen to me, and the only way to fend it off was make sure I was doing enough good to cancel out any bad that could befall upon me. I washed my hands constantly. I pulled on the attic door cord in the upstairs hallway every time I passed it for good luck, I worried…a lot.
16 years later I found myself in a very similar position: nothing was actually wrong, but I was so worried something would become wrong that I couldn’t bring myself to enjoy any of the trappings of the life I was living. I had a supportive husband, a home office to call my own (without the soundtrack of the Golf Channel constantly in the background…hooray!), and a hub of clients who inspired me and gave me encouragement everyday. I was so happy but simultaneously terrified because I felt that the inevitable flipside of happiness must be complete and utter destitution. Fear is a most demanding deity to worship, and every morning I got up, tapped away at emails, designed, photographed, marketed, and wrote out of fear.
Every night when he came home I had a punch list ready for Jordan of all the things I did that day. I wanted him to see that I was contributing, that I was being productive, that I was trying. I suddenly took it upon myself to place ALL the household maintenance responsibilities on my plate in order to make up for the fact that I will inevitably forever be the weak link in our household, never truly pulling my weight or contributing adequately. I needed to cook dinner every night, find the time to keep our new house (which felt huge in comparison to our previous 650 square foot dwelling) spotless, decorate the home to look like something out of Real Simple on a Wal-Mart budget, and run my business harder than ever before because someone had to help pay for all this. If I was on track to meet the my business’ financial goals for one month I was already concerned about the next month, and the next month. My perception of my value to Jordan suddenly became less about being a loving and supportive spouse and more about profit numbers on a spreadsheet and groceries in the fridge.
A few weeks ago I reached a breaking point. 2015 has been an AMAZING year so far. We kicked it off by purchasing our first house. We finally got to fulfill a practically life-long dream of mine to get a Pug, and we got not one, but TWO. I have had the most amazing clients and have gotten to work on such cool projects that I’m SUPER proud to claim. I’m looking forward to several work and personal opportunities in 2015 that will allow me to travel to some super stellar places that I’ve never been before. But punctuated amidst all these many blessings was the continuous feeling of doubt that I was never going to be enough. Fear has driven me to take on more work than I can handle, have misaligned expectations of myself, and over-commit in many facets of my life. It’s manifested itself in the form of missed client deadlines, poor communication, disconnection from friends and family, and the occasional physical panic attack. Three weeks ago, it started with choosing a light fixture for our foyer and somehow ended with me in practically a nervous breakdown.
The CEO was right, fear is a great motivator, but it’s not a good way to live.
I don’t have all the answers yet, so this isn’t an advice piece or a story about how I overcame an obstacle. This is me hoping to find some kindred spirits out there in the cyber universe who perhaps share the same struggles I do. The struggles of work-life balance and not ever feeling like you’re accomplishing enough. The struggles of tying your self worth as a person into all the things you do (or don’t do) every day.
For now, I’ll be looking to revamp how I run my business from the inside out, not only in the way I organize and manage my work, but also my philosophy about my work. Fellow entrepreneurs, I’d love to hear how you’ve learned to deal with these demons and how you manage to do all that you do. The truth is that we entrepreneurs NEED each other, because fear and life and business and entrepreneurship is truly too big to battle alone. And yes, sometimes it’s a battle.
Holly asked me to design this mug, and though it’s intended for moms, I think it could apply to anyone. It says, “You are doing an amazing job.” She sent me one in the mail last month, and it meant so much to receive it. Here’s to you, fellow entrepreneurs, I’m raising my mug for a digital toast, may we all celebrate the small victories, the blessings in every day, and know that fear is just a little lady in tall heels. She’s got nothing on us.