Searching. Always searching.
That’s how I would define my life from the age of 16 until 26. Constantly searching.
For what? My identity.
Here’s the thing. I’ve always wanted fairly impractical things in life. If you asked me at 12 what I was going to do with my life, I would have told you that I’d be a triple-threat actress/dancer/singer who writes books on the side. If I got bored with all that, perhaps I’d become a journalist. And I would always find a way to do work that helps people.
Yeah, I was a tad ambitious.
That ambition didn’t go away as I got older, but it was shoved into a new framework in my mind. The framework, sadly, was gilded in fear.
I stopped dancing – even though my teachers said I could actually go pro one day. I was too shy or scared to perform as a singer or actress in front of anyone other than my teachers. I refused to join the newspaper in high school because I figured that was for “other people” (who were, presumably, better than I). I was consistently shocked when English teachers praised my writing and never bothered to seek ways to keep getting better.
Notice a theme here? It’s a whole lot of stuff that I didn’t do. And I stayed firmly in that place of not doing because my feet were nailed down by fear.
Instead of seeing possibilities or opportunities, I only saw a bunch of stuff that other people do and succeed at. Instead of taking chances, I stuck with what I knew I was good at so I could appear to be perfect. I wouldn’t try anything I couldn’t excel at. I wouldn’t ask any questions I didn’t already know the answer to.
Here’s the really sucky part of all of this. I was actually pretty good at the things I wanted to pursue. Not the best by any means, but I had enough raw talent that, had I spent my time working instead of fearing, I could have cultivated excellence. But who has time to work on your craft when you’re spending all your time wishing you were like other people and worrying that you’ll never be good enough?
I’d love to say that all that changed as I matured, but it didn’t. After college, I took job after practical job and focused on rigid, unnecessarily complex paths to following my dreams. And while I did so, I felt depressed, lonely, and frustrated that I couldn’t replicate the same success I had in my academic career. (Who knew school would do nothing to prepare me for the real world? No one talked about that when I was still in school.)
Finally, after way too many years of feeling fearful, doubtful, and not good enough, I took a leap. It wasn’t my first leap, but it was the leap that put me where I needed to be. After ignoring my craft for way too long, I finally found a way to get paid for it and it happened in just the right space for someone full of fear: startups. Being rid of bureaucracy, being trusted to create, and getting thrust in a move-so-fast-we-just-need-to-get-it-done environment forced me out of my comfort zone. There was no time to be perfect, we just had to move forward.
Suddenly, there was only time for action. And, wouldn’t you know, I stopped questioning my identity. I worked hard on my craft, I did things every day that made me uncomfortable, and I found confidence in myself. Once I saw that I could do great things without knowing all the answers, I stopped relying on external validators. I learned my ability to do, even in situations where I knew little and had little resources, and that taught me that I was truly capable. I didn’t need to rely on textbooks or perfection or anything else. I discovered that I could be a problem solver.
In short, I got really comfortable with being uncomfortable. And I’ve never been the same since.
I got out of my head. I learned to leap and fail fast and learn and move forward. I learned to stop caring about being perfect. And now, here we are. I’m doing work I love and building this thing that I’m so driven to do that I could burst. I don’t know all the answers, how it will turn out, or even what “it” fully is. But I know the next step to take, and I know I’ll be able to figure out another step after that. And that, my friends, is all we ever really need.