Last week, I took deliberate steps into a brand new career by starting school. After eight months of deep self-examination, countless goal setting exercises and personal growth workshops, and living the unbelievably stress-free existence of unemployment by choice (i.e. funemployment), I feel ready to dive back in to the workforce. This time, I’m following my intuition instead of a well-worn, expected-upon path.
And despite the beautiful journey I’ve taken to get here, this past week has been stressful. Similar to the way aromas bring back memories that were long forgotten, sitting in a classroom setting with 30 other students brings back a tension reminiscent of my college days when I frequently suffered panic attacks.
I recognized this sickening sensation on day 1 of class. Like a punch in the stomach, it all came back. Just as I did in college, I tried to ignore it. Then, I tried talking myself out of it. Then, I grew more worried when I realized it wasn’t going away.
Then, something awesome happened. A new type of response that I never had in all my years of school before. Instead of continuing to fight the yucky sensation of uncertainty mixed with tension mixed with fear (aka social anxiety), I simply let it unfold. Then, I embraced it as a long-lost part of myself, as if giving an old friend who I haven’t seen in a while a hug. Then, I just quietly spoke to it in my thoughts.
“Thank you for being authentic,” I calmly told that feeling inside me.
No matter what the feeling boils down to — fear of failure, fear of enduring several hours of class work each day for the next several months, fear of being around hundreds of students every day, fear of discovering I’m not actually good at what I’m training to become — that feeling is present in me and I can only let it run its course if I’m going to function in this new environment. Sure, I don’t enjoy the feeling, but I don’t have to enjoy it to accept it as necessary.
One of the most empowering things to also remind yourself in situations like these is that you have a choice. As I sat in the classroom that first day, I reminded myself that I chose this. Mindfully and enthusiastically, I chose to be right here, right now. And I don’t just mean I chose this specific school in this specific city in this specific time of my life, though that is all true. I mean that I choose every sensation and circumstance I’m experiencing right now.
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t really love high school. Why? Because I was shy, anxiety-prone, and felt like I had no choice in the matter. I was forced to go, forced to take certain classes, forced to do group projects with people who I didn’t like. To me, it was awful. Looking back, I see that the reason it was so difficult was because I made it that way. I viewed things from a victim’s frame of mind, instead of as an active creator in my life.
Not only are we all powerful co-creators in our lives, but if we choose to look at everything that happens inside of us and around us as something meaningful – something we unknowingly chose for ourselves because it’s making us stronger – then that thought can make any situation better.
We have so much more power than we give ourselves credit for. That includes the power to take care of ourselves and be our own advocate. If I feel myself tensing up, I adjust my posture mindfully. I take a walk outside. I grab some water and a comfort or two. Sounds simple, but when I was in high school (and even college) I put my needs on the back-burner to avoid calling attention to myself. We don’t need to ask for permission to do what’s right for us.
“It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to get permission” ~ Grace Hopper
Being back in an environment that used to stress me out has compelled me to create a personal mission statement: If I choose to be authentic with myself, connect with my instructor, classmates and clients, and stay creatively engaged with a career that I can take in limitless directions, then I’ll be successful. That is what success looks like to me: Being authentic over ‘perfect,’ connecting with others versus hiding myself, and creating a life of unlimited possibilities.
What does success look like to you? Are you a perfectionist? Are you a victim? Are you hiding?
Take a breath and assess what drives you. You may discover than you’ve been placing yourself in the passenger seat of your life, when truly you had the wheel in your hands the whole time.
With courage, love, and intensity,