What are you waiting for?

I remember, maybe a little less than a year ago now, my first (and perhaps only) true light bulb moment.  Do you ever find yourself in a place where all around you, you can see things in life you wish were different? The year from summer 2009 – 2010 has been one of self-discovery for me, and it all began with that moment.  The moment when it dawned on me, for the first time, that my circumstances were never going to be what I wanted unless I took the steps to make them that way.

If you’re reading this on my blog, you’ll know that I’ve written on and off about my past struggles with anxiety.  I think this is the first time I’ve ever written about them in the past tense. If you’re reading it on Samantha’s (I’m guest posting for her today; do check out her blog, as she’s just wonderful!), then I should probably give you a little bit of a back story.

This time last year, I was seeing a therapist for a social anxiety disorder. I don’t like the idea of therapists, really. I also don’t like the term “social anxiety,” and I especially dislike the word “disorder”.  It evokes images and feelings of being afraid, of allowing something to control you, and of something being wrong with you. Although perhaps that was the motivation I needed – I’ve learned over the last little while that the bigger the discrepancy between where you are and where you want to be, the stronger the motivation to change.  I think it was a result of years of low self-esteem – with friendships and relationships, I often latched on to whoever showed the slightest interest, even if it probably wasn’t a good idea to have them around.  I learned my lesson the hard way – got kicked out of where I was living, had one ex-boyfriend jet off halfway around the world never to come back, and had another gradually sap about $12,000 out of my bank account, start doing drugs, and get arrested for physically abusing me in the street. I think these things, combined with my ongoing self-doubts to make me want to retreat from the world. I gave in to the inner voices that told me that I wasn’t good enough.  That I wasn’t worthy enough to be treated well, and that I had nothing of value to offer the world. That I should keep my mouth shut, because everyone would see how useless I “was”.  I was terrified. But I allowed it to happen.

Looking back, I want to take hold of my 22-year old self and give her a good shake, but at the same time, I have to remind myself that things happen for a reason. If it hadn’t been for the bad, I never would have been fuelled to grow in order to find the good.  I think in life, we can be nudged slightly, reminded that what we’re doing isn’t good for us. This can be in the form of a simple daydream, wondering what our life would be like had we made a different choice.  Or a series of negative events paving the way of a relationship; warning signs to get out.  Unfortunately, if we allow our self-doubts to win, bad circumstances are going to continue until something catastrophic has to happen in order for us to open our eyes and truly listen.  What happened to me was a megaphone in my ear telling me to alter course from the road I was taking.  And had it not come to that point, who knows where I may be now?

One night last summer, it was a low point. I was upset that inside, I so desperately wanted to be able to break free of this fear that was holding me prisoner, and offer myself to the world, hoping to find friendships and new situations, and growth in my career.  I wanted to be happy, to be content and comfortable in my own skin, to be able to stand up in front of people and do something inspirational without being plagued by nerves.  I was upset because things weren’t the way I wanted them to be.  I wasn’t the person I wanted to be. And on came the light bulb; a literal shining light of hope on my self-induced darkness.

Dreams are never going to become reality unless you become an active participant in calling them into action. 

I’d been wishing and waiting for things to be different… without doing anything about it. It’s so easy in life to victimize ourselves, because I think, sadly, people have a tendency to gravitate toward the things that don’t require as much effort. I was upset that things weren’t the way I wanted them to be, yet I hadn’t played a part in making them happen. Silly girl! I decided from that point forward, things were going to be different.

I made a list of all the things I wanted to be able to do without fear. All the things I wanted to be without worry.  A great piece of advice I got was remembering to remind myself that I only have a finite amount of mental energy. I will never be able to control what other people think of me, so instead of using that energy worrying about judgment, I should use it to focus on the things I can control. I can control what I put out into the world. I can control whether I allow myself to take risks with the hope of coming out stronger on the other side. I can control how I take the words of others.  “This is a big change,” I was told, “and it’s not going to happen overnight. These things take time.”

But why should they?  We all have a choice in how we decide to live our lives, in the way we choose to see the world, and in what we put into it.  Just because I’d spent the last twenty-something years making the wrong ones doesn’t mean I have to ease myself into making the right ones gradually. Every day is a new opportunity to change everything, if you only have the determination.  Since last summer, I’ve made the choice instead of retreating, to dive headfirst into everything that scared me.  I can choose whether I allow things to control my life, or if I want to control my own.

It started off incredibly hard. Just because the mentality is shifting doesn’t mean the physiological signs of anxiety shake off so easily. The first workshop I facilitated, I went in trembling and stuttering. The first workshop I came out of, after telling the students why I decided to give it a shot, I left to the sound of applause. It was the best feeling in the world.  A tiny victory that fuelled my desire to keep growing, keep trying anything and everything that used to terrify me. It’s definitely been a journey of ups and downs – chairing meetings to a room full of people twice my age is intimidating, facilitating a workshop as the youngest person on staff is daunting, singing to the Internet was nerve-wracking, and sharing my story perhaps the scariest of all.  But I’m determined to keep trying. Of course there are things still on my list. Real life karaoke, speaking to a class of 30 instead of 10, and reading my writing in a couple of weeks in a public bookstore to a bunch strangers.  I’m still apprehensive. But determined to come out stronger on the other side.

Sometimes, all it takes to change what you don’t like about your life is making a choice and sticking to it. Having the courage (or at least pretending to!) not only to recognise what it is you don’t like about your life, even if it’s admitting past mistakes, but to venture forth and take control.  None of us need be a prisoner of fear.  We have every right to be able to be the person we want to be.  You can’t control what other people are going to think about you. But you can control what you put out into the world. And if it’s positivity, and determination to better yourself and the lives of the people around you? I don’t think anyone could ask for anything more.

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52 comments

  1. I agree. It is tough to take that first step to action. Taking the bull by the horns (to use a tired old cliche) is difficult when you’re staring into the face of something you know can hurt you.

    I often get too comfortable where I am, and taking a step in any different direction can be near impossible. I am a ridiculous control freak, and I don’t want to put myself in any kind of situation if I can’t control at least 75%.

    I applaud you for being brave, putting yourself out there, and tacking your anxiety and your fears head-on. You are such a beautiful, strong woman and an inspiration to many of us out here!

    1. Being able to have control is huge for me too – I think that’s why I found it so difficult a few months ago not knowing if I was going to be able to keep my job or not! I think in any situation even if we don’t have control over how things pan out, we have control over how we’re going to act in them and react to them. Thank you so much for your FAR too kind words 🙂

  2. This post makes me want to run outside and twirl around with my arms outstretched and my face turned up at the sun! It makes me so happy to hear about you being happy and just how free you must feel now. Sometimes I wonder about my life because it is amazing, it makes me wonder how I ended up with such an awesome life. Reading your post makes me think it must have something to do with a positive outlook on life and an attitude of getting things done. If you set your mind to something, it makes a huge difference. I hope someone reads this who needs some hope in their life today!!!

    1. I hope you did go outside and twirl around under the sun! You’re right – it is an incredibly freeing thing, and I’m so glad to know you as you are always full of such positive energy 🙂 Thanks Jen!!

  3. Emily, your story brought tears to my eyes. I am SO proud of the woman that you are becoming (I wont’t say have become because even as a perfectionist, I believe that we are on a continuous journey of learning and growing). And to think you’ve learned all of this at your tender age! You are such an inspiration and your life, challenges, pains and victories are going to be used over and over to give people the courage and hope that they too can see victory. You go girl!!! Love you!!

    1. Awwwwwwwww Sharon!! 🙂 Thank you so much!! I have to agree with you on the “becoming” vs. “become”, I know I am still a long way from where I want to be but I am determined to keep trying and keep reminding myself that we always have a choice about how our life plays out 🙂

  4. em you are such an inspiration to me & I hope ppl read this today and see the power that they have within themselves. this is what i love about your blog that you’re not afraid to show the world where you’ve been and who you are and that you’re so willing to share the past when so many people would cover it up and pretend they’re soomeone they’re not on their blog so they can look perfect. you are the real deal and i hope the world sees this post & sees they can change their attitude and how different things can be. xx

  5. You lady inspire me!! You really always have, I have been for lack of better words in a “slump” for a bit. Out of everything I have realized that I have let so many things go in my life that made my life really happy; there was never a reason to let this stuff go, just that it was easy at the time.

    I ( again to make this simple) have been really feeling sorry for myself, and reading your words this morning you have spoke to me!! Thank you.

    You truly are an amazing person, you are brilliant and best of all you inspire me to be a better person and to be true to me!!

  6. Kudos to you, Emily, for wanting to continue to grow and redefine who you are and blast away those fears.

    I especially liked this comment and it spoke volumes to me:

    “… if we allow our self-doubts to win, bad circumstances are going to continue until something catastrophic has to happen in order for us to open our eyes and truly listen.”

    That is so true and it’s a hard lesson to learn. You’ve learned it with grace and style and I comment you for standing firm and continuing in your journey to finding your inner strength.

    Thanks for leading by example. *hugs*

    1. Thank YOU sweetie 🙂 I can’t say it was graceful at the time but as with all things it’s an ongoing learning process and we just have to choose the right way of looking at things to be able to embrace a better future rather than being a prisoner to the past 🙂

  7. I can definitely relate in a way – moving to another country has left me without a job – so…a lot of time with myself and staring all of my lack of motivations in the face – I definitely have goals in mind that I just need to accomplish instead of being scared of failing..

    1. I recently read something about the biggest mistake anyone can make is always being afraid of making one – I believe in you miss!! And even if you do fail – it’s going to be another learning opportunity, right? At least you’ll know you tried 🙂

  8. Every day and moment is a new opportunity. Since last this time, once I started to take control and make the best out of every situation, I have been so happy. I’m glad you’ve done that too.

    To life!

  9. Oh Emily, I have so much I want to say, but for now I’ll have to stick with a simple thank you. Seriously, thank you so, so much. ❤

  10. Awesome post!

    I too, have suffered with anxiety – so can relate with all this.

    I also started my blog as a way to get out of my comfort zone – finding my unicorn kinda means finding my dreams – letting go of fear :).

    I love that you are so honest.

    x

  11. Thank you for such an honest & inspirational post. I, too, have struggled with anxiety and fear, and I’m only now coming to terms with self-empowerment. Teaching has changed me, moving 6 hours away from my childhood home has changed me, and the supportive relationship I’m in has also made an impact. I think that it’s so awesome that you are challenging your fear headfirst. Keep it up!

    1. Thanks! Our stories sound a little similar… learning to teach, living away from home, and a supportive relationship are huge factors in my efforts too. Would love to chat sometime 🙂

  12. I’m 54 now but at 22, I was a lot like you have described. If you want to by-pass a lot of mental gymnastics and save yourself from mental headaches,give this a try. It goes straight to the source of our troubles.

    Simply look yourself in the eyes in a mirror everyday and say:

    I Love You. (repeat it 7 times)

    If you do it, notice the change in about a week, oftentimes sooner.

    1. Thanks Sue Ann – I had a friend tell me something similar to this a couple of years ago, she said she started every day looking in the mirror saying “I am beautiful” and “I am smart” etc. I never tried it because I felt like I’d be literally lying to myself because there were so many things I wanted to change – but maybe now I’ve done something about some of the things I didn’t like, doing something like this would really help.

      1. Sometimes it feels really dumb, because as you say,we don’t believe it. And that is why it is so very important that we do. When I first started I did feel dumb but then tears would come and that would further indicate why I needed to do it.

        There is a saying that “we can only give as good as we got”. As we are capable of loving ourselves,so are we capable of loving others.

  13. Thanks fo sharing your story. It’s hard to put it out there & talk about what you’ve been through, but I am sure some people reading it were nodding their heads in agreement. I know much of it resonated with me! I am so glad you’ve made it through this – you are definitely a stronger person as a result.

    I also have had an ‘a ha’ or lightbulb moment that you described. For me, it came about 2-3 months after I started seeing a therapist about 2 years ago. For so long I had hated my life but one afternoon, I was out at lunch with 3 great girlfriends, telling them a story, and I thought – “YES – I love my life and wouldn’t change a thing!” And that was a fantastic feeling.

  14. This post has inspired me to sit down and come up with a list of goals and things I want to accomplish. I live a very mundane and mediocre life and I just wish it was more exciting and fulfilling. The only way to do that is to make it happen myself!

    You are such an inspiration!

    1. As are you sweetie!! Lists are HUGE for me – I find having them all written down moves them from being some idea floating around my head for “one day” to something concrete I can tackle piece by piece with a sense of real accomplishment as you cross each one off 🙂 Please share how it works for you!!

  15. Just beautiful. I think this may be the most beautiful post so far. Lately, I have been struggling with finding meaning and happiness in my life. I keep trying to push people and things out thinking they are what is holding me back. I never thought that instead of them being the ones doing that, that instead it was me not being willing enough to make the change to be who I wanted to be.

    Emily, you truly are an inspiration and your words are so beautiful and will change the lives of so many people- just like they are starting to change mine.

    Love you!

  16. Beautiful. I’m so happy that your first class applauded for you. It makes me feel like people out there are actually good. I loved your singing on you blog. I love it when you put yourself out there. There was so much good stuff in here, and you are right, WE have to make changes and move in the direction we want in order to get the change we want. I can’t wait to see what you have in store!

    1. Thanks Holly! It was the most amazing feeling in the world. It’s only happened the once, but it couldn’t have happened at a better or more fitting time 🙂

  17. I’m right in the middle of making big changes, and making hard choices and your post? So inspirational and read so at the right time. I really needed this, thank you so much for this post, you have no idea how you helped me right now.

  18. I haven’t been reading your blog for very long, but I already feel like I know you, and it’s because of things like this. Your heartbreakingly honest writing – it is relatable even if no one has gone through a similar situation. Thanks for sharing who you are with us.

  19. Ohhhh friend!! You did it…YET AGAIN!! I believe I’m on this same exact path! This post has strengthened my resolve to face fear head on and without reservation. I believe whole-heartedly that it is always about the journey and what I gain from the “process”. Everyone above has already said everything I could say! But…from someone who is shy and soooo fearful of making the wrong moves, this post is more than inspiring!! It is a mantra….to keep repeating over and over! Thank you for being you!

    I wish we were real life friends…you remind me sooo much of me! I think we’d get along lovely 🙂

    1. I WISH we were real life friends too!! I have a feeling we’d have long talks about this and help each other in our journeys… thank you so much for reading and for your sweet words!!

  20. Amazing!
    You are truly a brave, strong brilliant human being. I too was paralized by anxiety in my younger years… in fact, I lost most of them to fear.
    To have learned what you have learned so early on, (despite the fact that I’m sure it doesn’t seem that way to you.)
    I hope you’re regularly patting yourself on the back.
    Thanks so much for sharing. We need to spread the word that issues like anxiety and reactive depression can be overcome when we’re willing to take responsibility and do the work!

    1. Jenny, thank you so much for reading — it’s so empowering when we realise and acknowledge the things we feel we’re “not good” at, or the things we want to change, and really stay focused on making them constant learning opportunities rather than impossibilities. It’s difficult to be able to basically say “These are my imperfections” but we all have a choice in whether we allow them to control our lives, or we take a stand and try and overcome them. 🙂

  21. I love this post! I appreciate your openness and speaking your truth so clearly. I applaud your courage in making the CHOICE to step into your fears and face them head on, instead of letting fear control your life. You are a living example of a Daring Diva who’s living life proactively, creating what you want and taking the steps to reach your goals. It’s so true that many of us wish for something different, yet we often don’t take the steps to get there. Thank you for being such an inspiration and setting such a positive example!

  22. A great post and your honesty is admirable. I like the idea of “making a list of things you want to do without fear”. Perhaps, you meant that theoretically, but I’m gonna take it literally and make a physical list, like a little project for myself.
    I also have the so-called “anxiety-disorder” among other things. I am experiencing that “light bulb” moment, you experienced a while ago, right now. It’s not completely on yet….more like a a flicker. Anyway, Good luck to you, in everything that you are doing!!

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