There's a saying that life begins outside of your comfort zone. Cliche? Totally.
Do you have to go as far as I did, and get naked in front of 150 women? Probably not, but stay with me as I share with you the story that culminated with a panic attack.
A few weeks ago, my husband Ben and I took a work-play combo trip for 4 days to New York City sans toddler (who's officially hit the terrible twos).
I've been dreaming of going to NYC since I discovered Sex and the City 10 years ago as a procrastinating university student, and I wondered if it could ever live up to the fantasy city that I had built in my head.
Boy, did it ever. Most amazing city ever ... but I could never keep up with the pace of life if I actually lived there.
I expected, since we didn't have Aleks with us, that I'd make even the slightest dent in my sleep debt. I was so wrong.
I got caught up in the energy of the city, and combined with eating dinner 2 hours later than we usually do and wanting to see as much of NYC as possible in what little play time that I had, I slept for 4 hours the first night, and 6 hours the second.
The aches and pains from walking for 12 hours straight on cement didn't help (I found some epsom salts in our rental apartment on the last night we were there, which was too little, too late).
On the Saturday I attended my first ever in-person work conference. As an online entrepreneur who's a one-woman show, I spend a LOT of time by myself in front of the computer screen. I meet "work friends" over Facebook that I'll probably never meet in real-life. It was so surreal at the airport to say "I'm travelling for business" (said me, the person who until last year was terrified of flying).
Needless to say, I was first-day-of-school excited/nervous/woke up at 4:20 am/tried on 4 outfits the night before. I packed my snacks so I wouldn't get hangry and say something stupid in a moment of low-blood sugar desperation. I put on my super bright new lipstick (I work at home all by myself, a good day is when I get "dressed up" in skinny jeans) and my new Kate Spade purse (in the colour Fresh Air) that I spent all of my spending money on, and walked the few blocks to the event.
What would it be like? Who would I meet? How was I going to make a meaningful connection with even 1 fellow entrepreneur in a room of 150 women and online mavens making multi-six figures in their businesses?
Worst case scenario: I knew one person who was going to be there, my good friend and fellow holistic nutritionist Sara Bradford, who I haven't seen in over two years. It's sad when you have to go all the way to New York City to see a friend who lives a 2-hour drive away. The life of busy mompreneurs.
I knew everything was going to be OK when a girl came up to me and told me that she loved my outfit. I asked her what she did, and she said "I'm a fashion stylist and jewellery designer from here in New York City". What?!?! A fashion stylist who actually lives in New York City loved my outfit? MAJOR confidence booster
Now I'm not a shy person. If I have something to ask, I ask it, so it's no surprise that I asked tons of questions to the well-known speakers, including going up for a hot-seat Q&A on my upcoming Fall program that I'm designing for all of you.
I didn't feel like I was outside of my comfort zone doing all of this public speaking, but what did feel outside the norm was being around so many people for 9 hours straight, with no down time and nowhere quiet to go.
Not only that, but not having much down time for 3 straight days, if you include flying, walking around one of the most crowded cities in North America, and eating out. 3 days of pushing myself, with not much sleep, being bombarded by new information to help me build my business, reach more people, and help more moms.
All work and no play makes Ashley an emotional girl.
By day 4, and after an entire 8 hours of sleep, I was finally feeling in the groove. I even managed to find somewhere to get my morning tea on my way to the 2nd day of the event. I felt like such a New Yorker! The speaker that morning inspired such a moment of clarity in me about my new website that when she asked who wanted to come up and share it with the audience, I immediately put my hand up. When she said whoever got up to the front first could speak, I ran up, narrowly beating another girl.
I didn't run up there because I wanted everyone to pay attention to me.
I did't run up there because I was trying to hog the spotlight.
I ran up there because I wanted to thank the speaker, who's a proud former stripper, for helping me to figure something out that I've been obsessing and agonizing about for over a month. I wanted her to know that her presentation really made a difference.
When I went up, the first thing she said was "weren't you in the hot seat yesterday?".
Immediately I felt deflated, like all the wind got taken out of my sails. I shared my new idea, stuttering along the way because the confidence that I wanted to share was gone. I told her that she inspired a lightning strike in me, and she joked "oh, you literally got hit with lightening?".
I felt naked. Utterly N-A-K-E-D and completely exposed in front of 150 people. And I felt ashamed, like I shouldn't have shared my idea. Who was *I* to share this idea with anyone? Why was *I* so special?
Flashback to every time I've been bullied and made fun of in my entire life, including being an outcast for months in grade 7 when all my friends ignored me, and I'd spend recess holed up in a cubby, reading books instead of playing like a normal kid.
The first thing I said when I sat down, to the girl I didn't even know sitting beside me, was "don't worry, I'm not going to stand up and share anything for the rest of the day".
Heart palpitations started shortly after this. Then at lunch, another lady who I didn't know said "oh, you're the girl who hogs the microphone". I was humiliated. How many other people were saying this about me?
My body immediately went into survival mode, and all I wanted to do was to crawl into a hole and not come out for the rest of the day.
I didn't want to leave, so I just sat there and ordered some food. I could feel the panic rising in me. My heart was skipping beats. I was trying to take some deep breathes and couldn't. It was like all the stress and living outside of my comfort zone for the past 4 days was coming out of me all at once.
I tried going into the washroom to breathe, but it literally the size of a closet, with me sitting on the toilet and my knees touching the door. I had to get out of there.
I went back to the table, and asked a new naturopathic friend if she knew anything to calm me down. She went with me to another table, where I promptly started crying and hyperventilating. The tears had been building up in me for hours, and since I wasn't giving myself a safe place to go for them to come out, they were forcing themselves out in the middle of a restaurant. Awesome.
Dr. Julie, an incredible soul who I was so glad to have met in person, taught me an amazing new relaxation technique while doing some acupressure, and I finally calmed down. We walked back to the conference, and after 5 minutes, I decided it was time for me to leave.
My goal was to make a genuine connection with one new business partner, and I met way more than that. I had learned a ton of new information to help me help all of you in a bigger and better way. It was time to go home, my safe place, and to my husband my babe.
While those 3 hours weren't the best of my life, I didn't let it put a damper on my entire weekend (in fact, I ate veal tongue that night, which is WAY out of my normal food comfort zone). The inspiration and the clarity on what I want for my business so that I can give so much more to all of you who take the time out of your busy lives to listen to me was worth those few hours of thinking I was going to have a heart attack.
I experienced first-hand that hells yes, life DOES begin outside of your comfort zone!
It begins outside of the diaper changes, dishes, middle of the night feeds, chauffeuring to and from daycare, reading the same 5 books over and over again ... but you won't know how wonderful that life is until you trust your most precious possession, your children, with someone else who loves them just as much as you do.
It begins when you try food that you never thought you'd eat, like octopus (to.die.for, SERIOUSLY) and veal tongue (tasted like the beefiest beef I've ever had, so good!).
It begins when you put on some bright pink lipstick, and a skirt that you've had in your closet for a year and a half because you never dress up.
It begins when you have the courage to live the life you've always wanted, no permission required.
I wanna know: when was the last time you lived outside of your comfort zone, and what did you do?