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Confessions of an Entrepreneur With Anxiety

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I was just sitting there, minding my own business, when, hand-over-face kidnapping-style, I got pulled in.

My chest got super tight and I started to sweat. My heart sounded like a cannon in my ears, and the movements of people around me blurred. Hot fear rushed through me and turned my insides into a messy soup of panic. All I could do was take a deep breath and it ride it out.

Anxiety sucks.

Life with anxiety means that developing strategies to deal with it are a must. For me, dependable routines, self-care and a tribe of safe, supportive people help me not just cope with anxiety but actually thrive. I’ve learned that creating space for myself to feel secure and relaxed allows me to slow down and respond to anxiety in a productive way.

Entrepreneurship, on the other hand, is all about risk and change. Thinking outside the box, pushing boundaries, taking risks, putting yourself in new situations and engaging in new ways. It demands we take action, jumping outside of our comfort zones to make our dreams come true.

Notice anything? Maybe how those anxiety strategies and the risk zone of entrepreneurialism don’t exactly go together?

Yeah, me too.

You’d think that anxiety and entrepreneurship would be the perfect storm. Like maybe I’d be a better candidate for a salaried position with a consistent office space, a predictable schedule and a map for my life that takes me from college grad to retiree with minimal detours.

But that’s where you’d be wrong. Like, dead wrong.

Being an entrepreneur has been the absolute best partner for my anxiety. It’s not only made me a stronger woman, but it’s functioned as a secret weapon, propelling me into amazing growth, in my personal life and my career.

Was I surprised? Yes. Am I loving it? Mega yes.

I know I’m not the only female entrepreneur with anxiety. Some openly struggle, but most suffer in silence. If you’re in the second group, I want to give you hope. Anxiety doesn’t have to sabotage your dreams. On the contrary, it can be your greatest super power.

Every single aspect of my anxiety has been a launching point for greatness in my life. Learning how to see the lessons amidst the mud has allowed me to harness that power, and by sharing the “how,” I hope to empower you to do the same.

Here’s how anxiety has made me a powerful entrepreneur.

#1. It’s made me OK with messiness.

Anxiety is like a magnifying glass reminding you life is messy. When you’re like me and prefer things tidy, it’s a pretty scary thing to see.

Being confronted with my weaknesses and imperfections can be stressful and overwhelming, but it’s also liberating. I used to spend so much energy trying to be the poster child for perfectionism, hiding my struggles and never being less than stellar.

But that’s not real life.

Real life is full of mistakes, embarrassment, frustrations and failures (plus all the good stuff too, of course). It’s messy. Learning about my anxiety has taught me how to make peace with my imperfections while celebrating my successes and striving for growth.

Starting a business is messy work, too. Things don’t always work out like you plan, and you have to learn to harness the hidden power of detours to zero in on your goals.

When I first started my business, I was super focused on guest posting to drive traffic to my new site. Right away an article got picked up by a major publication. It was really successful, but after that I struggled to land my next one. Frustration led to a pity party — “I’m a great writer with a valuable message, why don’t people want to publish me?”

But as I sat in my frustration, I began to notice areas of my business that needed polishing. The copy on my “Start Here” page didn’t compel readers to subscribe. I was also missing a crucial personal element to my site, and I hadn’t quite honed my unique voice in my articles.

Instead of continuing to pout, I sprang into action. I rewrote my intro page to clearly communicate my mission and why it was crucial to my readers’ lives. I created a fun, energetic bio page to build connection and trust. Most importantly, I never stopped writing, even when I never heard back from editors about my submissions. Constant writing allowed me to find my unique voice, which made branding myself much more organic and powerful.

Guess what happened? I scored my next guest post.

It was the perfect time for it too. My new site was polished, powerful and ready to convert visitors into subscribers. If I would have waited around, I would have wasted a valuable opportunity to improve. Instead, I embraced the unplanned slump and turned it into a jolt of energy for my business.

Anxiety has taught me to embrace wherever I’m at and use it to fuel my progress.

#2. It’s made me comfortable showing my “real.”

To help with my anxiety, I’ve been seeing a counselor regularly for about two years now, and it’s been life-changing to say the least. One thing it’s taught me is how to share my struggles in an open, honest and healthy way.

A few weeks ago I was hanging out with friends I hadn’t seen for months. One gal was excited to see my parenting style and joked that she’d be taking notes for when she had kids of her own.

My response? “Oh girl, don’t put me on a pedestal, I’m so not the perfect mom!” Even though we were both kidding around, publicly acknowledging my humanness took the self-imposed pressure off me to look perfect. We went on to talk about whiny kids and teething tantrums, and I got to share some of what I’ve learned and hear wisdom from other moms.

It was a morning of real talk, and guess what? It felt amazing.

The old Hannah would have hidden her struggles while trying to look like she had it all together. Even thinking about that makes me want to hurl. Fake perfection is exhausting, not to mention totally isolating. By being honest and real about how I really feel on the inside, I can freely be exactly where I’m at that day, even if it’s a total hot mess.

Sharing my real has been powerful in another way too.

When I live my life in a way that says “real is welcome here,” I become a relatable, trustworthy source of hope and inspiration. People see that it’s OK to be imperfect around me, and I love it.

I’m still learning how to embrace my real, but every time a woman messages me and thanks me for sharing my story or pours out her story and asks for advice, I know I’m growing in the right direction. If my real can help you embrace yours, then it’s all worth it.

Entrepreneurship is like that, too.

In business, relationships open doors for you. And when your goal is to build relationships, you have to show others you understand where they’re coming from.

Many of us strive to be influencers in our field, but no one wants advice thundering down from above. We long to be embraced, understood and guided by someone we trust. Being comfortable boldly sharing your journey allows others to get to know you, trust you and ultimately reach out for the guidance you offer. Of all the kinds of influencers out there, that’s exactly the kind I want to be.

#3. It’s made me brave.

I’ve always been terrified of not being good enough. No one’s perfect, but I’ve wasted tons of energy trying to be the exception because I felt unworthy and messed up.

So I started standing up to that fear. Not bashing myself into the ground when I messed up, loving who I was made to be in all my messy glory and having grace with myself as I learn. Suddenly being imperfect wasn’t so scary because I wasn’t ignoring it. Looking it right in the face meant it couldn’t sneak up on me.

Anxiety has a way of shoving your worst fears in your face and forcing you to think about them. Confronting what scares you takes a lot of its power away, and while the actual process of facing fears can be freaky, the resulting bravery is really refreshing.

Now I’m a lot less afraid of failure. I know that what scares me can’t kill me, and what’s inside me is stronger that anything that comes at me. Anxiety has shown me that I’m a strong woman who only grows stronger with each passing day.

My newfound bravery has given my business a needed boost too. I’m boldly reaching out to influencers and building relationships. I’m canning my excuses and actually ordering the books I’ve been telling myself I need to read for months. Risks aren’t opportunities for failure anymore, they’re opportunities for massive growth. I’m embracing honest feedback and using it to improve, and I’m unapologetically asking for the things I need to succeed.

Bravely being willing to take risks is what sets top performers apart from the wannapreneurs, and I’m struttin my new ballzy attitude like it ain’t no thang.

#4. I’m a better friend.

Perfect people are intimidating and kind of annoying.

Let’s be real. We all know that person who seems to have their life so together that we feel completely inadequate when we show any signs of, ehem, normalness. Is that friend your favorite person to be around?

Embracing my own journey has helped me have grace with others in ways I never had before. I’ve become a better listener when my friends open up their hearts, and I’m able to understand their struggles in a deeper way.

One of my friends has been going through a rough season with her family. While hanging out at a party, she opened up to me and shared her struggles.

I could have offered advice. Instead, I just sat and listened. Focusing on her needs allowed me to meet her where she was at and comfort her exactly how she needed it.

When I’m a better friend, I’m a better entrepreneur too. Viewing my audience and clients as friends allows me to be present, listen and effectively serve them. I’m writing articles that address real struggles and real desires. I don’t have to be salesy because I can boldly offer a service I know is valuable to their deepest needs.

Compassion builds trust, camaraderie and loyalty. I’m building my tribe by being the community my audience needs, and when they feel that, they can’t help but join in.

#5. Others don’t control me.

A lot of my anxiety is rooted in stressing about what others will think of me and my choices. Even when I know those choices are the right ones for me, I still freak out sometimes. We all want the approval of others, to be cheered on, accepted and liked, so the thought of not getting that is just a tad bit freaky.

But as I’ve faced my anxiety head on, the fear of what others think has less and less power over me. By learning to embrace myself, how I’m made and bravely stand up for myself and my needs, I’ve taken my life back.

I’m no longer controlled by what others think of me. I don’t feel the need for their approval when deciding the course of my life. I have my own story, and it’s perfect for me.

As an entrepreneur, this is a mind-blowing attitude shift.

I’m the CEO of my business, period. Anxiety has taught me that my business doesn’t have to be dictated by the opinions of those around me, and my path doesn’t have to match the ones others are on.

Not everyone in my life approved of me, a new mom, starting my own business, but it was the right choice for me. Some people thought the idea was weird, and didn’t even get the value of what I was offering. Doesn’t matter — my audience loves that I’m helping them overcome their deepest fears and find freedom. My material and voice aren’t for everyone, but the women who join my tribe? I’m cutting through the crap and speaking right to their hearts.

If I know in my heart something’s right, I’m gonna go for it no matter what. This paves the way for me to be bold, think outside of the box and build a business and a brand that no one else ever could.

Embracing what makes me uniquely powerful is the best investment in my business I could ever make.

#6. I’m a fighter.

The battle with anxiety will make or break you. I’ve decided to let it make me.

Before I came to terms with anxiety, I blew wherever the wind took me. I acted like a groupie and felt the need to cave to “popular” because I wasn’t confident in my own potential. “What do you think? Ok I think that too.” Barf, I know.

My journey with anxiety has showed me how powerful I really am. Now I’m a fighter.

I’m willing to fight for what I need, believe in and stand for. Not going out in the evenings might make me unpopular, but I know that time with my little family feeds my soul. I don’t take crap anymore, and I’m not afraid to walk away from people and situations that aren’t healthy for me. Ending relationships is never fun, but removing toxic people from my life has freed me up to love myself and others well.

I’m a fierce female powerhouse, baby, and I’m loving every second.

My business loves it, too. Doors are opening because I’m not letting my timid fears stop me from knocking. I’m writing what I know needs to be said instead of what might make me popular. Wasting time on vanity pursuits (likes on Instagram, anyone)? Nah, I’m zeroing in on what needs to be done. And guess what? It moves the needle.

#7. I take care of myself.

Before I acknowledged my anxiety, my self-care was mostly reactionary. Nights in, pedicures and venting with close friends were all things I did after I was already stressed. By then, I was a frazzled hot mess, and it was a little late for any healthy preventative measures.

Now I know how crucial proactive self-care really is. I flipped a 180 and started standing up for my needs, no matter how small. It’s not selfish to say “I need five minutes to breathe,” or “Thanks for the invite, but I’m Netflixing in bed with some ice cream tonight.” I’m not perfect, but on the spectrum of healthy self-care practices, I’m a lot closer to sanity than hot mess.

And in business? The new me is kicking boo-tay.

Because I take care of myself, I don’t burn out like I used to. When I’m resting, I’m zen, and when I’m working, I’m on fire. I’m able to dive into the tough parts of building a business with energy and gusto. My brain is sharper and more motivated and I actually enjoy work sprints. Building relationships with others is now empowering because I’m coming to the table healthy and confident with something to offer.

Carving out designated time for work and play takes away the entrepreneurial “hustle guilt” of never feeling you’ve earned your rest. I’m done letting exhaustion take me out of the game. Now I’m investing in myself so I can play to win.

What keeps you healthy — body, mind and soul? You do you.

#8. I understand it’s a journey.

Maybe my anxiety will go away someday, maybe not. But you know what? If it decided to stick around, it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

Anxiety is an ongoing journey. You can’t switch it off or decide you’ll come back to it when you’re ready. It’s in your face whenever it wants to be. The only way to beat it is to arm yourself with the tools to overcome it. Doing just that has given me strength and bravery for whatever the next chapter is in my story.

Last fall I was doing pretty well managing my anxiety, but then in early spring I hit a major rough patch. It’s hard not to look at yourself and scream, “What’s wrong with you, you were doing so well!?!”

After a momentary freak out (and a handful of sessions with my counselor), I was able to realize that a rough patch doesn’t erase all the progress I’ve made, it just means I have another opportunity to grow stronger. And you know what? That’s exactly what I did.

Entrepreneurship is exactly the same. Some days totally suck and you wonder why on earth you ever decided to do this, and other days you’re a freakin’ rock star. The ups and downs are part of the game, and no matter how hard you work or how much you learn, you’re never “there.” There’s always something to learn, growth to be embraced, and risks to take.

Understanding that entrepreneurship is dynamic and ever evolving has given me the energy to keep going through the hard seasons, and that’s a lesson I treasure.

#9. My tribe is everything.

I can’t beat my anxiety alone. It took getting beat up by my insides to show me I need others around to pour life into me, build me up and empower me to thrive.

I have my husband (who is the biggest champion of my heart), my counselor and dear close friends who remind me daily how precious I am. My journey with anxiety has cemented just how crucial it is to have a tribe that champions who you are and who you were made to be.

The entrepreneur in you needs a tribe, too.

While striking out on your own is built into entrepreneurship, you can’t succeed without a strong community. You may have killer ideas and a go get ‘em attitude, but nothing replaces outside advice and support. No one knows everything, and you can avoid disastrous mistakes by seeking out the wisdom of others.

Teachers, mentors and peers all play valuable roles in shaping you and your brand, so don’t miss out on the richness they bring. Build a supportive community around you. Tap into it, dive deep and as you rise, bring others up with you. We’re all stronger together.

I never thought I’d say this, but I’m insanely thankful for the privilege of having anxiety. Sure, it totally sucks sometimes, but it’s taught me that I can overcome any obstacle that tries to knock me down (even the terrifying ones inside my head).

Anxiety has made me stronger, braver, kinder and willing to go after my dreams with wild abandon. Now I’m excited, passionate, energized and loving every second of it.

My anxiety has become my secret weapon for success. And guess what?

Yours can too.

Follow this journey on The Leading Lady.

Lead photo via jacoblund

Originally published: January 25, 2018
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