I think I might finally understand what an anxiety attack feels like.
I’ve been home for the past month (which may sound great in theory, but it means I’m not working. And it’s winter. In Minnesota.) and counting down to today when I leave to do a program in Boston. But as this morning progressed, I started to feel sick to my stomach. It was hard to breathe and I could feel the anxiety building. I initially blamed it on the fact that MSP airport had recently remodeled their security lines and NPR has talked the last few days of nothing other than how long the lines were. I’ve spent years refining my system that got me through security in less than three minutes and now…who knew? But the truth is it didn’t have anything to do with that. Well, that’s a lie. It did. A little bit. I’m a damn control freak, but I knew it wasn’t what was choking me and making me feel like I was going to throw up.
What’s really bothering me is this: 2016 was by far the most successful year of my business, but lately I’ve been feeling like nothing other than a failure and a fraud.
First off, the year is off to a slow start. Never mind April and May are going to be crazy, nothing is happening RIGHT NOW. Intellectually I understand business cycles in my industry are completely unpredictable, but it never does anything to silence self-doubt and impatience. Case in point: when I see people and the requisite chit chat ensues, they say things like “It looks like things are going well!”, “It looks like you’ve been busy” or “Looks like you’ve been traveling all over”. And this is where I smile politely, cringe, die a little inside, say an totally unconvincing “…Yeah…..” and quickly change the subject. I know what things may “look like”, but what they are is something different. They have no idea that for the past month I’ve rarely had to put on real clothes or make up, and I’ve talked more to our cats and degu (Chilean ground squirrel – who I’ve also taught to jump 3 hurdles, run through a tube and pick up a red ball. Oh my god, things are so much worse than I thought.) more than humans.
When things are slow I start thinking things like “Nobody is interested in my message. Maybe my message is really stupid. Oh my god, it is! I need to change it. But to what?” I then take it to the next level of “Nobody is interested in me, I’m really stupid, and I need to change. I am my brand, right? And if no one is buying my brand, no one is buying me.”
As long as I’m being open and honest, I also feel like a fraud because a lot of the speaking I do is on behalf of another company. I deliver their content and their message. It’s not mine. Their success is not my success.
Second, I’ve questioned getting back to teaching fitness classes again because I’ve been yearning for more human connection in my work. A bizarre thing about what I do for a living is that I’m surrounded by thousands of people – at the airport, in hotels, in event rooms – but connecting with very few. It’s lonely. And a lot of this is my fault.
As I’ve developed my business I’ve been functioning off the assumption that in order to play with the big boys, to belong in corporate America and to be taken seriously, I need to focus on building credibility through science and data. There are over 300 scientific citations in my book. I can tell you the specifics of physiology forward and back. But talk about my personal experiences or let you see who I really am? No way. Let’s stay focused on the topic – I don’t want to lose my credibility!
Over the years I’ve gotten feedback (from a few brave souls) that I’m too polished and it can be hard for people to relate to me. In my effort to create “a brand” that’s professional, powerful and credible, I neglected to utilize my biggest asset: me. The real me that is human, imperfect, vulnerable, honest, snarky and loves to make a joke. And has a foul mouth.
I’ve measured my professional success by the number of speaking engagements I book and the amount of money the business bills. I’m not going to lie and say these things aren’t important to me, but what really makes me feel happy and fulfilled is having meaningful conversations and connections with people. I’ve been mentoring a brilliant young woman to do speaking engagements for PowerHouse, and it’s some of the most meaningful work I’ve done in a long time.
In my attempt to “figure out” what’s wrong with me and/or my business, I’ve been doing a lot of research on business development and talking to other professionals about resources. I stumbled on this video and wrote this:
So it’s what I’m going to shoot for: Less Show, More Soul. I’m not entirely sure what this means as far as my business is concerned – I don’t know what the hell I’m doing and I never really have. I’ve never taken a business or marketing class. But I do know how to be Jenny Evans. I think I just need to bring all of her on stage and into work with me more often.
Already the scientific, rational part of me is freaking out about where this post is going to fit on the blog page. There’s no category for “sick with anxiety” or “let me vomit vulnerability all over you”.
But worrying about that is focusing on the show, not the soul.