Trigger warning: This blog post shares my story with anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation in business that may be difficult to hear for some. If you need professional support in any of these areas please click here for a list of resources. Both hope and help are real and available to you.
Have you ever wondered what your parents say about you when they run into an old friend? You know, that one-liner that attempts to encompass everything you’re doing at this point in your life?
At least once a year, my sister and I try to guess what ours one-liners in life are.
At first, I was the daughter who “lives in Connecticut with her boyfriend and works at an ad agency!”
I then grew into the daughter who “just got married, has a great job and will be coming home to visit soon!”
I then became the daughter who “is doing really, really well! On vacation right now and running her own business!”
Of course, these one-liners only showcased the good in our lives.
Sharing anything beyond the good would be sharing far too much.
I mean, think about how people would react if the one liner was…
“She’s started seeing a therapist and to help her find her way again” or
“She hasn’t been sleeping well but they’re going to be trying a new medication to calm her anxiety” or
“You know, it’s been a rough few months for her and we don’t know how to help her but are doing our best.”
That would mean exposing your dark.
And the dark is too much for others to handle.
Especially if you’re running your own business online where people are looking for you to give them hope of something better.
What would people think of your dark when they’re seeing “perfection” every single day?
And that’s why that place, the dark, becomes a place for you and you alone.
The place you go when the world becomes too much to handle. The place that you can physically feel within your body with the tightness in your chest and the fogginess within your mind. The place that makes you want to do nothing more that crawl in a ball in the corner and silence the outside world. The place where all your current fears, shames and hurts begin to spill over. The place that feels helpful and helpless in the same breath.
The doctors say my dark is medically defined as anxiety and that it’s both common and normal in today’s society.
In fact, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.
The only problem?
In the Summer of 2015 my darkness didn’t feel like the same anxiety I’ve had, and have been medicated for, for well over a decade of my life. And it absolutely didn’t feel “normal” by any means.
It felt deeper and darker. Scarier.
But maybe everyone felt like this and I just needed to learn how to navigate it for myself?
I decided to stay quiet about my anxiety and keep building my business.
I shared when I was starting my business online and passionate about just how much opportunity there was for me to create a new life for us.
I shared when I begin to replace each income from the four jobs I worked, with that same online business.
I shared when we are able to go on the free trips my business provides because I believe that’s what people want to see. The winner. The hero.
I shared the day to do activities in my life so people can see that I’m not different from them. I’m simply a woman who sets goals and achieves them.
I shared the new friends I make in the process and how thankful I am for their support, encouragement and understanding of the journey through entrepreneurship.
But I got silent as my need to prove myself even more rises up and I replace every free moment I have with working on my business.
I got silent as I begin sacrifice my health by pulling all nighters, skipping workouts and under eating so that I had more time to work towards achieving the forever rising bar of “success.”
I got silent when I begin to feel resentful towards my own business and decide to create a second business in order to “solve the problem.”
I got silent as my husband is now able to come home from his 9 to 5 job and we start to see income months I never knew were possible online — while feeling more empty than ever in my life.
I got silent as I start to realize that I’ve attached my self worth to how much money I’ve made that week and have no idea what I’m even working towards anymore.
I got silent as I started to question if anyone ever actually has freedom in their life as an entrepreneur or if this was all one sick joke.
I got silent on the day I saw so many messages in my inbox that I decide to crawl from my chair, onto the floor and cry under my desk for an hour, simply wishing for silence.
I got silent when the chest pains start to come and I have no idea if it’s my anxiety coming back or if I was about to have a heart attack.
I got silent as I began to use showers as a place to cry so my husband couldn’t hear that there was something wrong that I had no idea how to fix.
I only speak up again when I find myself sitting on the couch, staring at the wall, wondering if myself and my husband would be better off if I ended my life.
He deserved better than a broken wife.
I deserved to have peace.
Yes, he would be hurt for a while but in time, he’ll see I did it for him. So he could be happier. So he wouldn’t have to see just how we’ve worked for this dream life, only for it not to be enough for me.
So he could love someone who would be a better wife than an entrepreneur.
It was in that moment that I realized I was right.
This was a different kind of darkness.
This wasn’t just my anxiety speaking but what happens when you spend years running from it.
And the fear of this kind of dark became bigger than the fear of speaking up.
I had to say something. Anything.
Have you ever experienced a broken heart?
The day I shared what was going on with my husband was the same day I witnessed two hearts breaking at the same time. Both mine and his.
With a lump in my chest that turned into tear soaked eyes, I shared the thoughts, struggles and truths that I had kept locked inside.
“I love our marriage, I love the life we have together, I love you but everything else…. it’s so heavy that it physically and mentally hurts. It wasn’t supposed to be this way.“
I felt like a failure who was broken beyond repair.
Who puts in all that work, just to be here?
If you’re looking for the one person who can change your life, look in the mirror.
That day, I made a promise.
To fight for myself more than my business.
For the life I truly wanted to live and the way I wanted to feel in that life.
And, most importantly, to keep talking about it every step of the way, so the dark couldn’t take over anymore.
Together, we would shine a light on the darkness that was so bright, it had no chance of winning.
You see, my husband and I have this thing about promises. They’re like sworn testimony in our marriage. And once I finally got everything out, I knew that change was the only next step available.
My first step?
To define my vision of success vs everyone else’s so that I could have a way to check in to see if my daily actions were in alignment with it.
If not, it was a clean NO from this point on.
Because one of the first things I learned was that anxiety thrives in misalignment.
This means that the more I got wrapped up in what I believed others expected of me and/or unrealistic standards I would set for myself, the higher my anxiety would get.
By identifying my true vision and metrics for success and then seeing what actions I was taking everyday, it began to become very clear what my next steps needed to be.
Here’s a few questions to ask to see if you’re in alignment with what you both want and need:
1. Identify your priorities.
Write down the top four things that are the most important to you in this season of your life, and support your definition of success, and number them 1-4 (order doesn’t matter here).
Some examples people have used are themselves, their faith, their business, their spouse, their friends, volunteerism and/or their children. There is no right or wrong for this, it’s simply what means the most to you in your life right now.
And yes, only four. I know how you operate fellow achiever! Don’t overthink this as they are most likely the four things you thought of first. 😉
2. List your actions.
Write down all of the things you have done from the past three days. From household cook to answering emails to your morning workouts. What actions are taking up your time? Place an asterisk * next to any activity that ONLY you can do. These are things that even if money was not an object, you can’t delegate or hire out because it needs your personal touch. (Rule of thumb… if someone can do a task at 80% of your efficiency, it’s not something that need your personal touch.)
3. Match your priorities to your actions.
For each activity you have listed, with an asterisk*, meaning only YOU can do, write the priority number that corresponds to it. For example, if you have “1 hour call with client” as an activity and your business is listed as priority 3, put a number three next to that activity.
4. Connect the dots.
Tally up how many actions in the span of an average three days have been dedicated to each priority. What do your actions show is your true number one priority? And is that ok for you or does something need to change?
You can then do this based on the activities that do NOT have an asterisk* with them to see what activities are taking you away from your priorities.
And even deeper, what actions didn’t get a priority number at all that needs to be removed completely?
Typically, you’ll find that those last activities are only being done from a place of needing to please others, seeking external validation and/or putting unrealistic expectations on yourself that don’t match what you truly want.
Based on this exercise, it was clear what next steps I needed to take. It was time to create a business that worked FOR my life instead of owning my life.
This meant investing into therapy and making things like workouts, meal prepping, date nights and fun with friends non-negotiable in my schedule.
It also meant phasing out of the two businesses I was leaning into a business and business model that matched my vision for success and could grow with me.
I set work hours for myself that gave my husband the permission to come in and close my laptop if I exceeded them for the day and I began to surround myself with entrepreneurs who were working less and living more so I wouldn’t fall into old patterns and could see exactly what was possible in my own life.
Each step more scary than the last as people pushed back against me and my ego did everything it could to try and work its way in.
What will people think?
Am I about to lose everything?
Is it really ok to not do this anymore?
Will my business fall apart with me working less?
However, I kept taking one small step at a time… many times with pure blind trust that it would work itself out.
For the first time in my life, I was building a business that truly supported my life instead of a life that supported my business.
Before I knew it, my anxiety became the hidden superpower of my business.
You see, up until this point in my life, I always thought the solution to my anxiety was to pretend it didn’t exist and drown it in more and more “stuff.”
Show up more.
However, for myself, the real solution was to give yourself the space you need to slow down and listen.
To both yourself and your body.
Because when you have anxiety as an entrepreneur, you actually have a superpower inside.
You see, if you listen to it, your anxiety will physically clue you in on when something isn’t in alignment for you in your life or business.
It will tell you when to slow down and relax.
It will tell you when an offer isn’t the best fit.
It will tell you when you’re stepping into a new level in your life.
It will tell you when your boundaries are being compromised.
It will tell you when you need to use your voice more.
Your job isn’t to fight it or push through. Your job is to trust in it enough to make a change.
Today, my business and life look completely different than that Summer in 2015.
I work less than most people I know, with a lean team, yet my reach and revenue continue to grow.
I show up online, create content and serve my audience because I want to, not have to.
Date nights are a requirement in our home, each and every week.
My morning routine includes four hours of self care, simply because I can, and the boundaries I have in place allow me to truly work less and live more.
I make decisions based on how they make me feel vs how much money it will make me.
I am able to consistently scale my revenue, with or without me in the business, through the power of scalable offers.
I am truly lit up by the work I do and who I serve.
In other words, the way of business that I once thought was impossible is now my normal, all thanks to working WITH my anxiety, instead of against it.
Is everyday perfect? Of course not.
But through my experience, I know I am capable of overcoming anything that comes my way because I have been able to tap into the true gift my anxiety has given me.
The gift of knowing when I’m out of alignment with my true self.
A gift that I can not only use for myself but to also shine the light of understand for others who may have everything to the outside world but don’t have the one thing they truly desire.
The freedom to define and then live the life they want for themselves – with a way of business that fully supports it.
I’ve become known for using my strategy-driven brain to help women restructure and scale their businesses in a way that unapologetically puts themselves first too.
It seems like just yesterday when I was faced with a choice.
And I’ll forever be thankful that I chose to both stay and change so that I can write this to you right now….
You are not alone.
Your feelings are valid.
Change is possible.
And YOU are worth it.