Regardless of what anybody tells you, we all have doubts. Anyone who says otherwise, is lying. Now, the kind of doubts we have, what they look like, when and where they show up, and how much they control our actions and our livelihood is a different story. Nonetheless, we've all got them. No one is immune. Even me, being a full-time professional, clothing brand owner, and speaker, I still have battles with doubt.
See, last week Thursday, I was on a conference call for a potential speaking engagement. A colleague recommended me for the opportunity and of course, they reached out to me. It was for a professional association's upcoming 50th Anniversary Conference.
About two weeks before the conference call, I received a form submission from my website. It was one of the members looking to connect with me. Now I must admit, I had doubts from the beginning. After reviewing the submission, I wasn't sure if I'd be a good enough fit. They pointed out that my target audience was students, but wondered if I could tailor my message to the members of their association. I was immediately swarmed with a rush of doubtful questions, "Can I?! Would I be able to tailor my message to them? How would I do that? What would it look like? What would I talk about? Am I gonna be able to meet their needs? Am I really what they're looking for? What will I say to them? Do I have anything to say to them? I don't know if I'm the right fit. Do they honestly feel like I could do it? Can I?!"
Their organization and conference was specifically geared toward Financial Aid Administrators in Higher Ed. And, while I have experience speaking, and working directly with students in Higher Ed, I wasn't really sure if my experience and perspective would really be of any help to them; or, if it's what they were looking for. On top of that, they'd be celebrating 50 years!! That's HUGE!! I didn't necessarily feel like I was 50th Anniversary keynote material.
Anyway, at the time, I'd been in the midst of other work at my full-time job. So, I didn't respond right away (probably not good for business lol). I also felt like I needed some time to marinate over it. Then, a week later, I got another form submission from the same person!! My anxiety flared up right away, "Awwww sh**!! I forgot to respond! Is that gonna look bad? It's probably gonna look bad. I didn't respond to their last submission, and now they're reaching out again! Damn! That's definitely not a good look. I probably messed it up already. I guess I gotta respond now! I don't want them to think I'm ignoring them. Man, I f***ed up. I probably should've acknowledged the first one right away to at least say I got it. Damn. This isn't a good look." After racing back and forth in my mind, the only way I could think of calming myself down, was by doing what I felt was necessary. I responded.
In my reply, I apologized for the delayed response, and shared that I would love to connect over the phone so that I could get a better understanding of the association, as well as their goals for the conference. They quickly responded back and began to ask questions about how I envisioned tailoring my message, where would I be traveling from, how much my rate was, and what the title of my talk would be. I didn't feel like I was prepared to answer those questions yet. After reading them, I thought, "Should I already know this? I mean, I suppose I should know some of those answers. I mean, I do. Do I? But, I don't even know if I'm gonna be the speaker yet. I haven't even really had a chance to think about what I would talk to them about, or what points I would hit. Is what they have in mind the same as what I have in mind? Is what I have in mind gonna satisfy what they have in mind?" I felt like I still needed more information. They also made me aware that they had spoken to other speakers who offered to do the keynote and another session right after, during lunch. I started feeling even more pressure. I thought, "Well, they've clearly approached other people. I gotta act fast! I suppose if I wanna stay in the running for this opportunity, or get booked, I've gotta be willing to do the same. If not, I'm probably out." So, I told them I would do the same and gave them a price. But, it didn't help cure any of my doubts. I was thinking about it all wrong. I asked that we speak over the phone so that I could get a better idea of what they were looking for. They wanted to schedule the call before the end of the week and it was already Wednesday. The pressure definitely felt like it was on! So, we scheduled it for the next day.
"Even me, being a full-time professional, clothing brand owner, and speaker, I still have battles with doubt."
Leading up to the call, I talked with a few people about the doubts I was having and why I worried about not being a good fit. They tried to help me see that I was just overthinking it, and had more to offer than I thought. A lot of it was my own internal struggles with worth and self-image that I've been working through for some time; and a part of me knew that, but I couldn't shake it. I jotted down some notes based on our conversations, along with what I felt could be pertinent to my anticipated audience. That helped me feel a little bit better; at least for the moment. Then, I decided if I wanted to shake this, maybe I just needed to be more confident and trust myself. I figured, I just need to get on that call, be true to myself, speak from the heart, and from my notes. If it was meant to be, it would be. I started to feel a little more at ease. I think.
Thursday came, and when it was time, I joined the call. There were about 8 of us total on the call; 7 members of the association, including the President, and myself. Things started off smoothly as we did what normal people do when they join conference calls, we introduced ourselves. Next, one of the members gave me a bit of a rundown about the association as well as what they were looking to accomplish. The floor was then, turned over to me. So, nervous as hell, I dove in and did exactly what I said I would. I spoke from the heart and referred to some of the notes I'd jotted down. To be honest, I don't even recall all of what I said. I just know it was honest and true.
Once I finished, the floor was open for questions. At this point, my anxiety started to bubble up again as there was a quick silence that felt like 3 minutes. I could've sworn I actually heard the air waves between us. Finally, someone broke the silence, "I have a question for JQ." Once they asked, I was immediately on edge. "Is what am saying, answering their questions? Am I hitting the right points?" More questions came. As I continued answering, the doubts came in stronger. I thought, "Oh man, can I speak to that? Did I completely miss the mark? I thought I answered that. Am I bugging? I think what I said ties into what they're asking. Did I not make that explicit enough? Maybe it doesn't tie in? They must think I'm just bulls***ing. They're probably gonna think I'm a joke. Maybe I'm not what they're looking for. I'm probably not what they're looking for. They're gonna choose someone else. Yeah, I blew it. They're gonna choose someone else" Even as all these thoughts raced through my mind, I remained honest and truthful as I responded to their questions. At the end, each of the members thanked me for speaking with them, and shared that they would be in touch. I highly doubted that.
As we hung up, my mind kept spinning. "Is what I had to offer enough? Is it what their looking for? Would I be able to execute the vision I think they have in mind? What is their vision? I don't even know if I'm clear on it. I wonder if they felt like I answered their questions. I don't know if I did. I probably just bombed that. Will they pick me? Probably not. It's a wrap." I'd tried so hard to be confident during the call, but the truth is, I wasn't at all. Though I knew what I said was honest, I wasn't so sure that it was good enough for them and that I lived up to the expectations they may have had in mind. I was afraid it wasn't good enough.
But it didn't just end there. That same evening, I spoke with my girlfriend over the phone about my day, and of course, the conference call. I was still swirling in my doubts and feelings so much, that she started to feel them too. We weren't even in the same room! But, we both could feel the weight of my emotions. "Can you get out of that?", she asked. "What do you mean? It's how I feel? You want me to fake it? I can't just fake how I'm feeling. That's not me." I couldn't shake the low and heavy feelings I had at the moment; I felt like a failure. She says to me, "I know you feel that way, but you can't just stay there babe. Sometimes you do that, and it starts to bring me down. I can feel it." I started to feel even heavier. "You should try do something with that energy. Redirect it.", she said.
Now, I started to beat myself up about how low I was feeling and the fact that it was bringing her down too. I hated that I felt this way and I knew it wasn't helpful because this wasn't the first time. Like I said, I've struggled with doubt, worth, and self-image for some time, and had been working through it. Most times, it's hoping that I'll be able to live up to whatever expectations I believe other people have in their minds. Whether it be in a relationship, a friendship, with family, at work, at an event, or just about anywhere. It's like I'm trying to get inside their heads to pull out what they expect from me, and then satisfy it. It's a really exhausting and unrealistic aim. I know that. Nonetheless, I keep trying to shoot for it. There'd been several times in the past when I've processed this experience with my partner and sort of stewed in my emotions.
"Ok. I won't just sit in it then.", I said. She responds, "Ok, cool. So, what are you gonna do?" "...I don't know.", I said. We both laughed. She then stressed again, that it was important for me to redirect that energy, and those feelings, in order to release them. She was well aware of my struggles and knew it wouldn't benefit me to sit with it and do nothing. "I guess I can go write a song or something." I said playfully. "Oh! That's a great idea! Yea! You should go do that! Why don't you go do that?! Go do that!" We agreed to hang up and I unenthusiastically sat in front of my computer to search for some beats.
Since I was 11 or 12 years, music has always been a great creative outlet for me. Specifically, I turned to rapping as a way to express what I was thinking, and how I was feeling at any given time. But as I got older, I didn't prioritize writing as much and I did it less and less. It'd been a while since I'd written and recorded some music, but I figured, "What the heck? I NEED to shake these feelings! I gotta do something about them." I cycled through some beats I found online, and eventually landed on one.
I felt like it matched the state of emotion I was in; strong, dark, deep, and reflective. So, I stuck with it. I wanted to be sure I could capture and release what I was feeling inside. And, I wanted the music to bring that out. I put the beat on a loop, opened up a note in my phone, and focused on the thoughts and feelings that were swirling in my head and in my heart. Then, I started writing. I took the same approach to my writing as I did with the call; I wanted to stay true to myself, and speak from the heart. So, I did just that.
I stayed with my feelings and looked for words that I felt captured them, and showed how I experienced them. I wanted to express what it was like for me to always feel the need to meet other people's expectations. I wanted show what it was like to always try anticipating what others are thinking; trying to control what they would think. I thought of the conference call, and what is was like for me before, during, and after it. I thought of other moments in my life when I felt boxed in by the expectations of others. I thought of moments when I felt like I failed, because I didn't do what someone else expected me to. Or, I didn't do it the way they expected me to do it. I reflected on where those thoughts came from. I thought about where those thoughts started. I thought about how they developed. I thought about why I had those thoughts. And, I even tried replaying some of those moments in my mind.
Within a matter of three or four hours, viola!! A song was born! I busted out my old microphone stand that my dad helped me purchase when I was an undergrad in college, the mixing board one of my fraternity brothers gave me a few years ago, and a microphone that I'd been sitting on for quite some time. Now, I wasn't worried about the call anymore. Instead, I was focused on letting the music take hold of my emotions and having fun while I recorded, which I did. When it was done, I felt the greatest sense of relief. I was able to speak to where the emotions came from. I was able to share what I was feeling at my core and explain what it was like. And, I was able to let go of and release what I'd been carrying. It was therapeutic.
See for me, talking typically helps. But, sometimes writing it down and organizing it first, helps me to speak about it even better. And, there's something about grouping words together over music that's magically powerful for me. Sometimes, I physically put pen to paper, and can feel the emotion travel from my heart and mind, through the ink, and into the world that exists between the drums and the lines of a page. Other times, I simply punch in every word on my phone, letter by letter, and piece together the puzzle of my thoughts, emotions, and life with the music. Ultimately, it's my way of talking it out.
Now, I don't share this for any pity. My hope is that if you're ever having struggles with doubt, or anything else, you understand that you're not alone. We all have doubts at one point or another. Even me! And, that's ok. It's normal. We're only human. What we do with our doubts, and our emotions, is what's most important. Because one thing will always remain constant, they will always seek for a way out; a way to be released. Many of us will try to stuff them and ignore them; mainly because we were taught that it was a sign of weakness. We may choose to eat our emotions. Some of us drink them. Some of us smoke them. Some of us allow them to guide and dictate our life, without even knowing it. And, some of us take them out on others. These aren't the healthiest of options and usually don't lead to the most positive outcomes. They even create bigger problems. So, I share this as a way of encouraging you to work through your struggles. Work through your doubts. Work through your emotions, in a healthy way. Release them. Whether you talk them out with a friend, colleague, family member, or professional; whether you write them in a journal, a song, a rap, or a letter; or, if you release them through some other form of creative expression, work through them. It takes much greater strength to admit, acknowledge, own, and face your struggles, than to pretend they don't exist. So whatever your outlet, I encourage you to seek a healthy one and release. Pick up a pen, pick up a phone, pick up a camera, pick up a brush, or put on some music. Perhaps, you too can heal and create something beautifully therapeutic.