I’m fortunate enough to have had a normal high school experience. I had a good group of friends. When I tried out for stuff, I got chosen enough to keep my self esteem high, but not so high that I was obnoxious. Normal boys liked me and really hot boys didn’t.
It was exactly the way it should be.
And yet some deep, dark part of my brain must be convinced that I actually had the kind of high school experience where I was eating lunch alone in the bathroom and getting shoved into lockers. I say this because I’m always sure that when I’m dropped into a new social situation, I will fail miserably and end up as an outcast. But I’ve decided it’s time to clear out that self-doubting part of my brain for good. It’s been proven to be outdated.
Last week, I went to a leadership conference for women in radio. I applied to the conference even though I figured I probably wasn’t qualified. When I was picked, I was running around my apartment giving my best Taylor Swift surprised face. I was honored to have been chosen, but then I realized I was also overwhelmed about the actual idea of going. In my mind, the likelihood of me getting selected was like the chances of me going to Space Camp as a kid. It just wasn’t happening. Yet now I was headed to Nashville (a city I’d always wanted to see) to spend three days with a group of women I’d never met, while attending management training classes?
That sounded REALLY intimidating/exciting/WHOA.
In anticipation of the trip, I started obsessing over weird parts of it. My anxiety was oozing out in odd ways. I became obsessed with when and where I would eat my meals. What if I had to sit alone while everyone else ate together? Then I became obsessed with the fact that I would struggle through the budgeting classes and everyone would think I’m an idiot. I feared I would sleep through my alarm, miss half the program, and get sent home. The list of worries went on and on.
I didn’t sleep the night before I departed. I just knew I was going to shame myself and my family and my company. I was actually hoping I’d get food poisoning or something and have a reason not to go, but 12 hours later there I was on a plane with a dream and my cardigan.
As it turns out (spoiler alert!) none of the things I obsessively worried about came true. In fact, in a crazy twist, it ended up being one of the best things I’ve done both personally and professionally. The eating alone and being laughed at? Yeah, that didn’t happen. Instead I learned a tremendous amount, became more self-aware, and gained confidence in myself as a business professional and as a human. Then I got to explore Nashville the night after the conference was done with a group of new friends. It was stellar. Until I walked off the plane the next day and immediately had to go to urgent care because I had a horrible case of strep throat. But you know what? I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I’m on that YOLO plan.
Looking back on it, I’m embarrassed that I was so convinced I would walk into this situation and fail miserably. How could I have had so little trust in Future Lauren? If one of my friends was going into this situation I would be SO excited for her. “You’re going to be amazing! They’ll love you!” I would chirp. And I would mean every word. But for my own self going through it? Yeah, you’re probably going to permanently damage your reputation…
From now on, I’m not going to approach anything with that “doomed to fail” mindset, especially because I normally pride myself on my healthy yet reasonable amounts of self-confidence. Next time, I’m going to force myself to think about the following:
- If the absolute worst thing you’re worried about comes true, will you be able to deal with it? In my case, if I had to eat alone or admit that I was struggling in a class, would I be able to cope? Yep.
- Has the absolute worst thing you’re worried about actually happened before? Um, nope. I’ve always handled myself properly in social situations and done well in school.
One of my favorite songs is by AWOLNATION. It’s called “Kill Your Heroes” and it features a line that says, “Never let your fear decide your fate.” It was a song I listened to a lot when I was really feeling nervous pre-Nashville. The message is important: It’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to be unsure. But it’s not okay to let those negative feelings keep you from trying new things or putting yourself out there. If the absolute worst thing happens and you end up doing something dumb, at least you tried.
Don’t let your fears run your choices. And who can even do math correctly anyway?