A good friend recently shared her daily mantra with me...‘I surrender myself to the universe’.
I was diagnosed with panic disorder and agoraphobia at age 10. What was to follow was a lifelong path dotted with various mental health issues and diagnoses. When I was a child, I was incredibly ashamed and secretive about these ‘labels’. I believed that I was the only person in the universe that experienced what I called ‘my feeling’.
It turns out, 1 in 4 Australians will experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime and 1 in 7 Australians will experience a depressive disorder in their lifetime.*
I've known for many years, while my journey is unique (as is everyone’s), I’m not alone in the struggle with my mental illness. The moment I started being open and talking to others, I began to realise how many of us suffer - and too often in silence. I was and continue to be, overwhelmed with how much compassion and understanding I receive. Mental illness can feel incredibly hopeless and isolating, but it doesn't have to be this way.
Others sharing their stories with me has been useful for my personal growth and that’s exactly why I choose to share my story with you...
RUNNING A BUSINESS - A CHALLENGE & A BLESSING
Being at the tail end of a major mental health episode this year, I’ve taken considerable time to reflect on my colorful life journey and how starting and running a business has been a blessing and a saviour for me personally.
Rewind 20 years and I was fumbling my way through multiple jobs and industries. I was very unemployable. I never had trouble getting a job, but maintaining a job was another story. I was either getting fired due to my lack of reliability or sometimes just not showing up to work and then avoiding the phone calls - burying my head deep in the sandy abyss.
Don't get me wrong, founding and running a business has not been a ride without bumps in the road. The ship has almost sunk once or twice along the way due to my health, but somehow, we always managed to stay afloat. This was not without surrendering to the kind help of my loved ones and amazing staff.
Being the owner of a small business allows me the flexibility I need, though it hasn’t always. I was a one-woman band in those early days, but my earliest investments were in staff to cover the aspects of the business which were my Achilles' heel.
THE POWER OF INTROVERSION
I lean more on the side of introversion (I love socialising but I crave A LOT of solo time to unwind and recharge - an open plan office is my worst nightmare!). I shy away from networking and pitching. Going out in the beginning and approaching cafes with my product was something I was capable of. I don't consider myself particularly shy and I was confident in my product, however, I found that by the end of the day I would return home and feel utterly exhausted. It drew too heavily on my resources. So the first person I employed was a Sales Representative to alleviate this pressure.
Contrary to popular belief, introversion is not a weakness, it's a personality characteristic and a very powerful one at that. There's a great TED talk by Susan Cain called The Power of Introversion which resonates with me deeply as the best work I do is in solitude and it's when I have my best ideas and deepest insights. It's also what nourishes me and helps me stay grounded and connected to myself. I’ve honoured this by slowly over the years employing staff to fulfill the customer-facing aspects of the business such as sales and networking, while I spend my time behind the scenes.
"Introversion is not a weakness, it's a personality characteristic and a very powerful one at that."
I don't consider myself to be a natural-born leader, so it is with purpose and intention that I attract staff who enjoy working autonomously and are very capable of being self-directed and taking initiative. This involved sacrifices such as paying staff more than I paid myself for many years, but it gave me freedom and space to succeed.
Because of this, I have more freedom to step back from the daily operations of the business and work when and where I feel most inspired as well as step back when I need the time out. This is a blessing I am grateful for every single day.
LEARNING THROUGH EXPERIENCE
So I made a business! To compliment my personality! And it worked! We may not be the wealthiest business on the block but we’re a business with heart and soul. I learned over time, trial and error, what my strengths were in terms of career options and more importantly my limitations. I surrendered to these limitations. Accepted them and made peace with them.
"I surrendered to these limitations. Accepted them and made peace with them."
I have also learned the power of saying no! I lean towards being an overachiever with a desire to be great at EVERYTHING. Breaking news…I’m not superwoman! However, I do have superpowers. One of my biggest powers is saying ‘no’ and being ok with that. This still doesn't come naturally to me, but I remind myself daily of its power. Without self-care, I believe we are limited in our ability to care for others. Saying ‘no’ for me helps create more space in my life to move more slowly and mindfully through my days. This reduces the chances of more regular and more extreme dips in terms of my mental health.
All that said, whether you're a small business owner like me riding the rollercoaster of ups and downs or just overwhelmed by the busy nature of everyday life, here are 4 key tips from me to you...
- IT'S OKAY TO SAY NO - In fact it can feel very empowering!
- SHARE YOUR STORY - You don't have to walk this path alone.
- FIND THE SILVER LINING - For me, this usually comes after an episode and with hindsight. If you look close enough there is always a little nugget of treasure to help you connect to your truest self.
- ACCEPT & SURRENDER - I’m no longer desperate to cure myself but I accept my journey with mental illness and focus on managing my triggers and understanding my behaviours and needs.
So I invite you to ask yourself - how do you surrender yourself to the universe?
Mama Chai xx
* Reference: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/media/statistics