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Letters to my past self - August 2015

I don’t journal daily but moving surfaced a stack of notebooks filled with entries from my mid twenties until now. Last weekend, I flipped through an old notebook and saw that I kept referring to this idea of writing a letter to a random journal entry. And then on Monday, I started reading Stacey Abrams’s book Lead from the Outside. In the preface she talks about how she questioned writing the book at all, doubting if people would be interested in her story until she met a stranger who embraced her with a hug once day for being forthright and showing her a reality that she didn't think was possible or probable. I started thinking that maybe what I’ve learned from my past could be helpful to someone.

I’ve wanted to try this for some time but kept talking myself out of actually hitting publish for months. I had so many excuses: lack of time, too much travel, concern about quality, worries about how it would be received. Every time i thought about clicking publish my stomach turns at making my innermost thoughts digital. But here we are because I realized all of those excuses were crap. I wasn’t writing because I wasn’t writing…by choice. Whatever fears I had were neither fully formed nor truly terrifying. I simply ran out of reasons to procrastinate.

So I’ve typed a random journal entry from August 2015 with the intention of responding to it with the perspective and advice I wish I had known at the time.

August 17, 2015

It’s been a while since I’ve journaled and a lot has happened. This last weekend has really been great for getting me out of my head and putting things in context.

Thinking small has made me both fearful and my worst enemy. I rewatched the Brene Brown TED talks which really put things in a new light. I’m scared of being success and i’m sure it’s related to not feeling worthy and deserving of it. It’s the same reason I get so anxious about my relationship.

The only way to overcome this fear of vulnerability and worthiness is to be exposed and open. I need to vocalize my wishes and desires because after all who gon stop me? Certainly not me.

In the car last night, N*** started talking about how he wished that he had become an entrepreneur sooner. He was always finding new ways to solve problems and feeling stifled by bureaucracy which has been my experience. I need to talk to him about making that shift. I really want him to mentor me.

This has really shown me the time for action is now. I have three business running in parallel.

I am entrepreneurial. I am an entrepreneur.

It’s time for me to claim that vision and fearless work toward it. The courage is in the effort and persistence, not the outcome.

I won’t say I don’t know because I know what I want. I don’t know is a symbol of doubt and that has no place in my vision.

My vision is full of creativity, love, beauty and financial prosperity. It’s mine for the taking.

Dear Vanessa of August 17, 2015,

You were really scared when you wrote this. Four months prior you quit a job that one could say (diplomatically of course) did not serve you or your purpose. You took a risk on yourself in ways that you hadn’t done since deciding to move to Mozambique in 2007. Your anxiety is at an all-time high as you try this new identity: entrepreneur. Which is interesting to say try because this is not the first time for you. Nevertheless, you feel the full weight of your decision as well as the burden of your anxiety judging yourself.

So you try these affirmations that people keep raving about: positive statements about worth and purpose. But it falls flat before the ink even dries on the page. You don’t even touch this journal for two more months when external circumstances have changed even if your mindset hasn’t.

Nevertheless, you see a glimmer of your true self in engaging in the exercise of daring to write that you deserve to be in that creative entrepreneurial space rather than disinviting yourself. Shutting down yourself is an express train to disappointment and dissatisfaction. You also see this self-reflection and self-sabotage for what it is: fear of success obscuring doubt of self-worth.

So you spread yourself too thin, working on three businesses rather than the one that you really want. You think that you are choosing and pursuing what you want when really your fear and anxiety make you work overtime to cover your bases. And although you write about vision and imagining this future, you’re afraid of what the next week, next month, and next quarter hold for you as financial tenuousness becomes entangled in larger-than-life anxiety.

In retrospect, it’s not the best step but it’s the step that you needed to take to believe that you were capable Without the glimmer of affirmation and validation, you would not have put yourself out there. Thinking small could have made you play small; instead you saved yourself from yourself. No parents, no boss, no mentor…just you letting yourself be yourself.

So even though the outcome you wanted to happen didn’t, the outcome that needed to happen did.

Fighting yourself is a lifelong battle only if you keep up the resistance. Now you know if you feel groundless doubt and that churn in your stomach that the physical fear response and the raging doubt are all smoke and mirrors.

So do what you want and not merely what you are expected to want. And bring Tums for that anxiety nausea.

Vanessa of August 28, 2019


Rouge, the color of anxiety


Rouge, the color of anxiety

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.