I spent my high school years feeling like a very different person then who I've discovered I am in university. I struggled in almost every social situation I was faced with. I would overanalyze my conversations and actions because I was concerned people might judge me for thinking or acting different than what I perceived to be the 'norm'. I let this anxiety control a large part of my life. I was too afraid to speak be affectionate or unguarded - I was afraid to be myself. Because of those fears I avoided ever stepping out of my comfort zone and allowed others to choose my path for me. I wanted to speak up and be genuine to myself but this fear always held me back, even if logically I knew I'd be okay.
It wasn’t until one day when I ran out of class mid-presentation because of a panic attack that I realized the cause of a majority of these negative feelings - the fear of failure. Being unprepared to present caused me to shake and stutter at every word. The thought that I was failing in front of so many of my peers combined with the anxiety I already felt in these social situations became overwhelming. For a long time after this I wanted to give up on public speaking completely, convincing myself that there was no point trying if I would just be left embarrassed and disappointed. Failing at something made me feel like I was failing myself; failing to do the things that I previously thought possible. I was completely wrong. That moment allowed me to look at why I was choosing to speak up in the first place. It made me want to not only improve on my speaking skills but more importantly choose for myself when to step up and have my voice heard.
My lowest moments have always been when I allowed my failures to consume my thoughts, thinking of all the ways I could have been better. But what I've realized is this has been a large part of making me the person I am proud of today. I still struggle at times to be kind to myself, putting this pressure on myself to be and perform 'perfect'. But I understand now that failure is natural and a part of your success. What's important is not letting fear hold you back from what you believe in. Not letting your voice go unheard because of fear of what might happen next. Everyone had a unique background and story that only they can tell. Empowerment is allowing those voices to be heard and listening with respect and a willingness to learn from those around us.