How to get out of a self-wallowing, nerve-racked funk before you meet your audience
Originally published in MarketingNews from the American Marketing Association, March 2019
You’re scheduled to speak at a big event and a voice in your head says, “What if I go blank? What if I look like a fool in front of everyone? I don’t know why they invited me, I shouldn’t be here.”
You have approximately 70,000 thoughts a day, 90% are which are repeats, according to UCLA researchers. Imagine repeating, “I shouldn’t be here,” 63,000 times. It’s no wonder you’re feeling like an imposter.
This event is a big deal, but you’re a big deal, too. The organizers invited you because you are the bee’s knees, an expert with incredible insights to share—despite your inner voice telling you otherwise.
That voice in your head has many names in the leadership world: it’s your inner critic, gremlin or lizard brain. I call my inner critic “Timid Lady Gaga.” By simply calling her an ironic, unrealistic name, I’m able to tame the self-limiting claims Timid Lady Gaga makes in an effort to make me small.
As a transformational leadership coach, I’ve had client conversations about this exact thing. I’ve heard:
“My mindset and lack of confidence are affecting my work in so many ways.”
“I’m just feeling stuck and unsure. I want to move forward with direction and purpose, but I can’t decide what to do—how to put one foot in front of the other.”
These are high-achieving, creative leaders at the top of their game. They appear to have it all together.
I’ve had my own coach talk me off the ledge of self-doubt and I want to share my go-to approaches to get out of a self-wallowing, nerve-racked funk for your big event.
But first, a story.
One day before I was set to host a personal branding workshop in Chicago, I finally admitted to myself that I could not power through a sore throat and massive headache. I was supposed to host 15 creative marketing professionals who were ready to light up the world with their voices, but I was barely able to speak. I needed a quick fix; instead, I received a bronchitis diagnosis and a bag of antibiotics from the immediate care unit.
Have you ever come down with a cold, gotten a horrible night’s sleep or had an unbearable stomach cramp right before a big event or a tough conversation with your boss? Mindset self-sabotage, anyone?
Regardless of my circumstances, I was going to show up. Leadership is showing up as your best self against all odds. This may sound trite in the face of the current trend to be authentic in leadership. But to be a successful, relatable leader and create a strong personal brand, you need to practice intention in how you show up.
In 2017, I sat in the audience and soaked in every word Michelle Obama said during her first public appearance after leaving the White House. Her practice of authenticity is beautifully simplistic:
“Authenticity means Michelle Obama is the same Michelle Obama you see here and with my girlfriends, walking the dog, being first lady,” she said. “It is the same person, and it’s a lot easier because I don’t have to pretend.”
If being authentic were easy, then why would anyone need a leadership coach? We’d all be pure reflections of our highest and best authentic selves—and that’s not the case, at least not all the time.
But there are ways to generate authenticity, to shift your mindset so the voice in your head stops screaming, “Get out before they discover the real me!”
Create a Relationship with Your Body
Showing up for our work with our minds alert and creative means taking care of ourselves.
I know business owners who have ended up in the hospital with pneumonia from exhaustion. My bronchitis was the result of overwhelm and stress, of not listening to my body.
Notice when your body is asking for rest, exercise or simply a glass of water.
Self-love is at the heart of my coaching practice, it is where confidence lives and self-expression is generated. I’m not talking about self-care (I, too, roll my eyes at #selfcaresunday), so here’s another way to look at generating a relationship between your mind and body: Self-care is simply an action to practice self-love. Self-love is the intention.
Let’s make this real: How would you treat yourself if you were your best client? What would business look like if you were your biggest asset?
Most of my clients have fully booked schedules and meditation is not on their radar. Instead, we craft ways to practice self-love that work for them. Consider that self-care may be listening to extremely loud house music for three minutes, drinking tea or doing 10 burpees. Whatever is going to bring you out of the self-sabotage mindset and into the present right away.
Keep a list of self-care practices on your phone. Use these as a mind-body workout to create a larger capacity for energy, self-love and intention to crush your big goals.
Dress the Part
As a leader, your reputation precedes you. It’s not fun to think that people are talking about you when you are not there, but it’s the truth. Generating your best self and expressing your intention are crucial. This is the core of personal branding.
If I were to look at you, what would I think is your personal brand? How does it shine through your leadership and how you show up? What would you change about your schedule, your look, your mindset and presence to reflect your intention?
Let’s be honest, we make a judgment when someone walks into a room, especially a speaker or a leader: Does this person reflect someone I want in my life? It’s an easy decision when your intention is clear and in alignment with how you show up.
Show up with a mindset of intention and dress for your personal brand. This is especially true at an event. People want to get to know you; your positive attitude and energizing presence are a quick insight into your personal brand and leadership style.
Train Your Mindset
I could have brought all the internal funk I created to host my personal branding workshop. I could have powered through. Instead, I paused and realigned with my intention for the event: to teach brave, creative leaders how to light up the world.
Before any event, I purposefully create time to clear my head. I take out a piece of paper and free-form write all the ways I could screw up. I play my victim card to the nines. “I should cancel, who wants to listen to a leadership coach who can’t even take care of herself? I’m dizzy and sweating, this is going to be awful.” Then I pause and recognize that this story is my Timid Lady Gaga trying to convince me to play small.
I take a deep breath and write my intention. I quickly meditate on that and dance to “Glorious” by Macklemore to increase my blood flow. Pick a place—I choose the bathroom—and practice what works for you.
Training your mindset is a daily—sometimes moment-to-moment—practice.
Your inner critic zaps your energy and sucks away your power. If there was a power leak in your house, you would fix it. Why not fix the voice that is limiting your greatness?