A master class in fear
I had the most amazing day today—but for a few minutes, it looked like it was about to take a bad turn.
I was standing outside the office after work, frustrated that the Uber I called 20 minutes ago (who was 7 minutes away, then 6… then 12, 11, 10… wait, now 12 again—you know where this goes, right?) drove RIGHT PAST me as I ran after him shouting.
Per had suggested I cancel the Uber at least 10 minutes prior so he could order me an Lyft. I texted him the go ahead, then headed back to 35 W Wacker to await my car’s arrival.
Before I got there, a man stopped me. “Excuse me,” he said, politely, and I looked up to a tall man who spoke with an African accent and gestured with his camera. “I just took your picture… I wanted you to know… there is something about you that is—so beautiful.”
Generally, when a man stops you in public to tell you that you are beautiful, you have a sense of where this is going. And all I can say is that in the moment, I knew that this—wasn’t that.
“Really?” I stopped to look at him. “Are you playing with me?”
“Why did you stop me to tell me this?”
He tried to answer, but as he spoke, I got the sense he didn’t know any better than I did.
He asked me what I did, and when I told him I worked in advertising, he looked surprised and confused—my answer was not what he expected. “What kind of advertising?” he probed.
I started to explain, then stopped, realizing it didn’t matter. “Why are you asking me this?”
“You look like a teacher,” he told me.
“I do? What makes me look like a teacher?”
“I don’t know. You just look like you have this calm about you.” He gestured to the space around me. “It’s like… are you spiritual?”
What, exactly, was this conversation I was having with some stranger in the middle of the street? Was this really happening? But I mean, something had made this person walk up to me and start a conversation that got to the cusp of something deep, very, very fast. So, I threw caution to the wind.
“Look,” I told him. “I think I know what you’re seeing. A few weeks ago, after a three-and-a-half year journey with stage four colon cancer, I became healthy. But it’s more than that, because, somewhere along the way—I think I also became healed. And that – that is what I think you might be seeing.”
“Wow.” He regarded me with wide eyes. And his expression must have mirrored my own, because it wasn’t until I said it that it felt true.
Just a few hours earlier, I had been sitting in my therapist’s office, in one of the most powerful sessions of my life. Today had been a sunny, gorgeous day—one of those Chicago spring days that had me practically skipping to my session.
Arriving, I had burst through the door and felt myself practically pulsing with positive energy. The past few weeks have been intensely wonderful; life feels so different without the heavy weight of fear—maybe it sounds obvious, but suddenly I’m realizing I didn’t really understand how much energy I had to devote to it – which meant less energy going to other things. Freed from that burden, I am suddenly feeling open and aligned, connected and creative, curious and inspired. I have so many ideas, I cannot sleep—and each night sometime after midnight, I get so excited by what is running through my head that I jot down thoughts, headlines, ideas.
I’m not writing all days—but most of them.
Maybe more exciting than that, I’m realizing that I’ve essentially completed a master class in fear.
Meeting with my new Business Development team a few weeks ago, I pulled together slides to introduce myself. One of them held three images: emblematic of the three toughest challenges of my life: infertility, divorce, and cancer.
I have never run a pitch front-to-back, I confessed to them; their new leader is not a new business expert. But what I do think I can offer is my expertise navigating fear and uncertainty—which I believe is key to helping both people and brands reach their potential—and I have a team I can trust to augment and do the rest.
“Your vulnerability is a gift you give to your people,” a wise direct report once said to me, maybe on the day I needed to hear it most—maybe the day when I was too sick, too tired, too miserable to hold it together, and I finally broke down and asked for help.
Today, I am realizing that vulnerability is also a gift I have learned to give to myself.
“So, now what?” asked my therapist today, when I tried to put into words how embracing vulnerability and naming fear has curiously made me feel so very powerful.
We return to a conversation about writing and what about the book and the questions of why and when and how. I have found that sometimes I learn more about myself when I ask myself why I am not doing something than why I am—and how often the answer to that question is rooted in fear. I hear myself offering explanations and excuses, and the voice in my head grows louder and louder with each rationalization, until I find myself crying and laughing at the same time.
“Oh my god. What is happening right now??” I ask her, and ever the good therapist, she turns the question back on me: “You tell me. What are you hearing?”
The voice is telling me, you are ready. But I don’t feel ready, I protest.
You are ready. You have trained for this.
I still don’t feel ready.
But as I write this, I realize that I have decided: I’m going to do it anyway.