I started my own business this summer, and ever since, people in my circle are constantly asking me how it’s going. Of course, they want to hear that it’s going great, I’ve never been happier, it was the best decision I ever made and that sort of thing. Because they mean well, because they care about me, because they want to hear that I’m succeeding. So usually, I tell them what they want to hear and change the subject as quickly as possible.
But I have a confession to make: I had a complete meltdown last week. Not a moment of self-doubt. Not a fleeting argument with my inner critic. A full-on, ugly crying, panic-ridden, everything-feels-like-it’s-falling-apart meltdown.
Maybe it was nostalgia for the predictability of a paycheck. Maybe it was getting sick and struggling to get anything done week before last. Maybe it was finding out the cost of paying for my own health insurance in 2018.
For whatever reason, last week it just hit me viscerally that this is really fucking hard. For a particularly low 15 minutes or so, I cried to my husband that I felt like a fraud, a failure, a reckless and unrealistic fool for believing I could actually make such a crazy idea as going into business for myself work.
But after the meltdown and the ugly crying and the panicking, I realized something important:
Panicking is part of the process.
Whenever we step out of our comfort zone and into a new and bigger space, our lizard brain is hardwired to resist us. And it will use every tool at its disposal — including and especially the panic that arises when we don’t feel safe — to get us to retreat back into the familiarity of our comfort zone.
This is normal. It’s expected. In fact, if you’ve taken a big leap and aren’t experiencing the occasional panicked meltdown, there’s a good chance you aren’t playing as big as you could be (no judgment, by the way. Actually, I’m kind of jealous. But I digress.).
I also realized something else: Our friends, family and culture at large are really, really bad at holding space for us in the midst of the leap. Not because they don’t care, but because they don’t know how. Society doesn’t give us the language to acknowledge the hardest parts of this journey.
Oh, we love to talk about it after the fact. My social media feed is awash in tales of successful entrepreneurs recounting their struggles, their mistakes, their failures and reassuring us with all the self-satisfaction of someone who’s “made it” that the struggle was totally worth it.
But where are the people who are still in the thick of it? Where are their stories of taking that first leap and wading through the wilderness of not-knowing? Where are their midnight breakdowns, their anxiety and self-doubt and setbacks, their financial stress? Their fear, above all, that it won’t work out?
Their stories are markedly absent. Our culture doesn’t want to hear about the mess and the pain and the uncertainty of being in the middle. Way too uncomfortable. It wants the entire hero’s journey, neatly wrapped up with a tale of triumphant victory, or no story at all.
And so we don’t talk about it, those of us who are still leaping and muddling and figuring out. We pretend we can compress the journey, breeze past all this messy in-between stuff and skip straight to the end. When we hear the dreaded question, “How’s that big leap going?”, we learn to respond with “Great!” and “Never better!” and “I’m so happy and confident!” rather than with the truth:
It’s really fucking hard. I’m anxious and stressed and not progressing as quickly as I think I should be, and I had a panic attack last night and no, I’m not sure it will all work out.
And this has the effect of making us feel very much alone, as if we were the only ones who were struggling. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The truth is that everyone is struggling, yet we all feel like we’re the only ones because nobody talks about it.
So let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about the fact that it’s really fucking hard. Let’s talk about the courage it takes to make a big leap in the first place. Let’s talk about the fear, the stress, the self-doubt, the pressure to pretend everything’s awesome. Let’s talk about it all.
And let’s hold space for ourselves and others who are in that messy in-between place. Let’s hold space for the ambiguity and the uncertainty and yes, even the panic.
Especially the panic.