Why? Because, back then, I couldn’t even talk to the server at the check out. Not just ‘not talk’, but I couldn’t even make eye contact, or offer a polite greeting. My life was crippled by severe social anxiety.
It wasn’t just about not talking in social situations, though I really hated being in large gatherings or around small groups of strangers. The deeper consequences were that I never spoke up. The only times when I had spoken up previously had resulted in being criticised, ridiculed, and bullied, so I would avoid bringing attention upon myself as best as I could. I became afraid to use my voice.
Unfortunately, the less I dared to speak up, the more it reinforced my situation. I endured more bullying and poor relationships. In my mid-30s, I lost my job. Not simply a job, but what was my chosen career path in the Insurance world. My career evaporated after severe bullying by management, which left me without an obvious future; no job, no income, and subsequently the breakdown of my relationship, and significant other distress.
It was both a tragedy and a turning point – I just couldn’t see the positives straight away. My situation was desperate, in terms of not meeting my daily expenses and living costs. I was at risk of homelessness, so I had to make choices and try things outside of my comfort zone.
Tiny steps: enrolling in a short course, attending a free seminar, watching a video, participating in a social group, connecting with new people; all of these little efforts began to build up and have their effect.
Soon enough, I was discovering my voice and overcoming the most crippling aspects of social anxiety. I felt stronger and more capable of engaging with strangers. I even spoke in front of a group of people in a meeting. I was applauded for my efforts, and was also asked to speak at other meetings. The inner voice inside me convinced me that I’d done poorly, and I never volunteered to speak up again. The healing process would take time.
Eventually, I dared myself again, almost five years later. I undertook speaker training, and discovered there were many other people who were afraid to speak up, as I had once been. To enhance my own skills, I enrolled in further speaker training. Before long, I began helping others to find their voice, too. I committed to creating an environment for people to discover their voice. I hosted local Speaker events, gifting a platform to aspiring, inexperienced speakers so that each one of them could take to the microphone with a prepared speech and share it before a live audience. I coached a select few, further helping them to find the courage to believe in their voice, in their message and in their mission.
I have since undertaken more education and constantly strive to push myself, to become a better mentor, coach, speaker and advocate for personal empowerment. I have discovered my confidence, developed my skills, recovered my self-belief and embraced my inner power.
I’ve really had to challenge myself. None of this was easy. There were times when it was downright scary. It meant facing my inner demons, daring myself when I was terrified, sometimes forcing myself to see myself from a new perspective, and it demanded of me that I take risks to become the future version of ME, that Me that I always wished I could be. The ME that speaks up, owns her voice and owns her power. I am that ME now.
I have chosen to help other women who want to speak up but are afraid to use their voice. When I take to the stage at the One Woman Fearless Summit in Sydney (on February 29), I will guide the audience through three key steps to help them to discover their voices, and feel that power within. I will share how to Own Your Voice, and Own Your Power.
The One Woman Fearless Summit is a speakers’ platform for Women, founded by Sharla Brown. One Woman Fearless as a Social Enterprise helps all women around the world to realise their full potential through access to education, skills training and entrepreneurship.
This post was written by confidence coach, Terri Mitchell and is republished here with permission.