It has been nearly two months since I left my full-time job to start out on my own - consulting non-profits and educational orgs, and building my own organization, Swirl.
As I embarked on this new phase of my life, I reflected to a friend that this would be the kind of change that would bring up a lot of stuff for me. Stuff that I have struggled with in my career, stuff that was important to me, stuff that I would have no choice but to stare straight in the eye in order to address. Why? Because I was on my own with no other people (or their circumstances) to distract me from myself.
Working on my own means no one else to look to for answers or to hold accountable, just as it also means that no one will be holding me back or telling me that I can't do something.It's a wonderful swirl (wink) of things that are both exhilirating and absolutely frightening.
And while there is pressure to say, "Yes, I've got it all under control and the work is rolling in, and I'm the happiest I've ever been," the truth is more like "Yes, I'm the happiest I've ever been, and I'm freaked out. I'm both busy with new work and wanting to be busier." I'm finding so many dichotomies in existence simultaneously. But our culture is about saying we are fine when we aren't. Saying we are fabulous when we are less than. Once I started to talk to other entrepreneurs about their first days, I started to get the idea that everyone starts out slowly. Figuring things out and feeling their way around. Freaking out here and there. Planting seeds and seeing the fruits years later. Learning to be patient. But I never really hear about all of this unless I ask. I think generally, people don't want to hear about or talk about the struggle. Pretending it isn't happening - does it go away? No, though I think the instinct to pretend or to numb the difficult feelings is a real one.
A friend sent me the link to a Ted Video (Brene Brown - The Prince of Invulnerability) that helped me to think this through. This idea of eliminating or numbing difficult emotions. Brene Brown talks about how much our society self-medicates, overeats and stays busy in order to numb the hard experiences and emotions we are feeling. In the past, I have definitely overworked as a way to avoid the challenging things in my life. I have come a long way since then. During this transition, I have given myself the space to really feel what I'm feeling, without trying to run away from it all.
Still, there is a little part of me that tries to convince myself that everything is great. Not scary. Totally fine. And while this is all actually true, what the convincing works to do is eliminate the feelings of fear and vulnerability that I am also experiencing. When you numb those emotions, it makes it very hard to live in a way that is present. And Brene says - you can't selectively numb emotions. When you numb the dark emotions, you also numb the positive - joy, happiness, love.
It's completely normal to be freaked out when you have taken some sort of leap. When you are running toward your passion while others (i.e. family) wonder about how you are paying your bills. When you are embarking on something that you have never tried before. Change. All of these things can make one feel vulnerable. What I've been practicing is feeling that vulnerability and all that comes with it and still moving forward. Vulnerability felt (because it's usually a good indicator of what is most important to you), but as much as possible, with action.
Postscript: I almost didn't write this. When faced with difficulty, I usually hide away to struggle with things on my own. In light of the very message of this post, I think it important not to do that and instead give voice to the things in life that are challenging - not only in hindsight once we have already won.