So much of anxiety is excess activity. The terrorist in your head takes over your mental radio and spins the worst case scenario track all day. You say something inadvertent and possibly unflattering and you direct 1000 dramatic recreations in your head where you revise the script and the outcome to make yourself the hero. Or you lay down at night to finally relieve yourself of the day’s cognitive burden only to find that the mental terrorist has declared that it’s time to castigate you for failing to finish your to do list for a month from now.
Chest tight with a slight ache in the back of the throat. A neck pain that appeared without fanfare and outwore its status as a guest in my body. For a store that could have the tagline "Treat Yoself," walking into Sephora feels like the prelude to a panic attack for me. It's a reminder that there's huge part of being a woman that continues to elude me. The sheer number of products that I'm expected to crave and use, layer upon layer. I may not love what I see in the mirror every day.
Eyes that flash open to blurrily peer upon a lime digital display where the numbers add up to a waking time hours before the morning alarm. Anxiety has been my constant companion, the ride or die that I would rather die. At once a security blanket that gives me an excuse for outward success. I check all the boxes, consider every scenario, with the grace of Ginger Rogers and a grin reminiscent of Julia Roberts in 90s rom coms. Anxiety is the magician playing sleight of hand. At once, driving the track record that demonstrates entrepreneurship is not a pipe dream but rather an achievable, desirable and attainable career. Anxiety comforts me about risk. After all, nothing can go wrong when you plan for everything, can it?
Those two words, can it, spawn a spiral of self doubt. How can I go out on my own, be my own boss when I can't trust my judgment. Can't distinguish between intuition and the inner voice that tells me to work longer to ensure that I'm successful. That drives me to skip meals, the gym, time with friends and loved ones, so I can work to avert the failure that never comes. But I can't relax because how do I know that it's not this vigilance that keeps me safe from disaster.
My anxiety didn't have a name at the beginning of my career, nor when I spent brief periods of time freelancing while in between work or picking up odd gigs while I worked full time. Only when the stakes went up when I "decided" to work for myself full-time did it barge into the war room of my mind and take over the reigns. Basically declaring that it was the captain now, hijacking any innate sense of rationality.
Whereas depression stole my Fulbright, my anxiety was the real MVP of life-disrupting mood disorders. Anxiety forced me to move due to restlessness, only fueling the perpetuation. Feeling like I was actually being judged and rejected, I tried to relax only to feel the discomfort of not being enough.
One YouTube binge later, I had made a list, lists being the refuge of Type A individuals worldwide. I found inexpensive dupes for all of the best MAC lipsticks for black women. While yes, saving a few coin was on my mind. The bigger issue was SAD — Sephora-Associated Dread, a condition only experienced by people perplexed by beauty and makeup like me. One massive Ulta order later, I had the armor that I needed without running the gauntlet. I told myself, "You're an adult. You need to wear makeup everyday, especially if you want people seriously." But really the lipstick wasn't for other people. I needed the armor.
When the order arrived, I tried on every color. It was like slipping on a confidence mask.
Lipstick was the facade of adult maturity and confidence that I craved and associated with women who ran businesses. They looked together, fierce, and as though doubt were not in the picture at all. Watching my face with the bold color scared me when I looked at it, but comforted me when in rooms with strangers working to prove myself. After all, you can't see the crazy colors you put on after you walk away from the mirror.
Lipstick allowed me to test what it felt like to enhance my appearance without feeling intimidated by the available options. It was idiot proof, essential for someone like me who wanted to feel more powerful on sight but not worry about raccoon eyes or rubbing a brow gel all over my face when errantly touching my face.
I've never thought of myself as a pretty girl and certainly not sexy. I often compare myself to a Cabbage Patch doll. When you have a round face, everything believes that you are younger.
And everyone says that you will be grateful for that in several years because youth both defines and limits you as a woman. Staring into the mirror, I wondered why my face was built the way it was. Where were my cheekbones? What is this crease that people keep referring to? Why is everyone so obsessed with eyebrows? My face is the outward manifestation of how mature I feel. Which is not at all. And with my trusty sidekick Anxiety telling me that I don't have what it takes to be an entrepreneur and my face showing me that entrepreneurs don't look this childish, this was the internal soundtrack that played through my mind with every prospect I met.
I can't say that lipstick solved all my problems of being an entrepreneur but it certainly did help with the pressure.
1. Story Factor, Annette Simmons
I’ve been a little obsessed with learning more about storytelling and narrative lately. This was the first of many books that I’ve cued up to learn how to become a better storyteller. I started down this path to help me with improving the novels that my boyfriend and I have written but I’ve also started to see how it is applicable in so many other arenas as well outside of fiction writing.
People don’t want more information. They are up to their eyeballs in information. They want faith—faith in you, your goals, your success, in the story you tell. It is faith that moves mountains, not facts. Facts do not give birth to faith. Faith needs a story to sustain it—a meaningful story that inspires belief in you and renews hope that your ideas indeed offer what you promise…Story is your path to creating faith….People value their own conclusions more highly than yours. They will only have faith in a story that has become real for them personally. Once people make your story, their story, you have tapped into the powerful force of faith.
Simmons highlights six types of stories for all of us to keep in our influence toolkit:
“Who I Am” stories
“Why I Am Here” stories
“The Vision” story
“I Know What You Are Thinking” stories
2. How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving, david richo
This book was recommended to me by a friend. It got too philosophical and lofty for me at times but I did appreciate some of the passages below in thinking about how to maintain and sustain boundaries of self as well as the relationship. As someone who’s possibly (read: likely) to be too independent in my relationship, this helped clarified places where I need to bend and stretch more.
Attention from others leads to self-respect. Acceptance engenders a sense of bing inherently a good person. Appreciation generates a sense of self-worth. Affection makes us feel lovable. Allowing gives us the freedom to pursue our own deepest needs, values and wishes.
In a committed relationship we finally let go of our ego's formidable insistence on being right, on getting our way, on competing and wining. We may still have argument, but they do not last as long, they end in resolution, they involve less replay of the past. We take the content of the argument as information rather than as grist for the mill of resentment. Instead of demanding that our expectations be met, we seek agreements. Now we fight, but do not stop loving.
3. atomic habits, james clear
So many people have recommended this book to be and I see why. While most of the information was not new to me, I really appreciated his clear (ha!) writing style and graphics as well as the attention to embedding instructional design and assistive resources throughout the book.
This graphic had me shook not because of the improvement curve but the decline one. As a low key math and science nerd, thinking about all the times where I not only don’t engage in good habits but also make the “just one time” choice does serious damage to my long-term goals.
4. books in progress
Telling True Stories, Edited by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call
Make Your Mark, The Creative’s Guide to Building a Business with Impact, Edited by Jocelyn Glei
Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, Daniel J. Siegel, MD
Due to a desire to reduce mindless scrolling in my life, I’ve turned to reading more actual books. This has had an accidental effect of reading about a book per week. I’ve decided to make a list of what I’ve read so far with 1-2 key insights or quotes that jumped out at me.
I’m planning to update this every month to keep track of my progress. I’ll reserve longer blogs for some of meatier takeaways that I’ve had for some books.
1. Steven Pressfield, The War of Art
2. Dan Harris, 10% Happier
3. Amy Morin, 13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don't Do
The one thing on her list of things NOT to do that I do most: See vulnerability as a weakness. Here’s four questions to ask yourself she shared to start tiptoeing in the shallow end of the vulnerability pool.
What gets in the way of being vulnerable?
Who are people I can become more vulnerable with?
What’s one small thing I can do to be vulnerable today?
How can I take care of myself when I’m being vulnerable?
4. William Zinsser, On Writing Well
This book is a great technical and emotional resource for someone like me who is just starting to write more in both nonfiction and fiction. I happened to pick up my copy at the Friends of the San Francisco Public Library sale/fundraiser. Aim to simplify everything where possible. Be a keen observer of the people and places around you.
5. Greg McKeown, Essentialism
6. Julia cameron, The artist’s way
7. Tiffany Dufu, Drop the ball
Serendipity strikes again. I read this book soon after completing Essentialism. These books worked well paired together because Dufu made the advice in Essentialism more personal and relevant for my identity and life. Tiffany Dudu is a black woman who is a well-recognized expert in women’s leadership and diversity and inclusion. However inside of her home, she replicated nearly all of the same gender expectations and roles, leading to the realization that she couldn’t do it all and she shouldn’t have to. Reading her journey of how she navigated and renegotiated the work of the household and parenting was the first time I’ve both seen that this can be done and have a blueprint for how to do it.
8. F*ck Feelings: One Shrink's Practical Advice for Managing All Life's Impossible Problems, Michael Bennett MD and SARAH BENNETT
Honestly I just checked this out from the library because it had f*ck in the title. I was pleasantly surprised to find funny and honest advice, strategies and science focused on how emotions can cause us to play ourselves.