I recently got asked what I considered my biggest achievement in life was so far.
I have contemplated the answer to this previously when the same question was asked in job applications, and my response is generally, completing my PhD.
Four years committed to a question, discovering all you can about a subject, finding ways to investigate and explore answers, and come to various conclusions. Of course, this is an amazing achievement and one of which I most certainly am proud…but is it my biggest achievement? Is this the main thing that defines who I am. I finished my PhD over six years ago, surely I have progressed since then?
I then considered my life so far, particularly the big changes I have made recently with taking the leap to leave full-time work and follow my dream of owning a successful thriving business, relocating my home to a place I love near the ocean that has transfixed my awe for a lifetime, and more importantly the journey that got me here.
Some of you may have read my alternative blog and will know that I suffered with an evil voice inside me called, The Anorexia, which subsequently manifested itself in various ways over the years including excessive exercising, orthorexia, incredible self-loathing, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and panic attacks to name a few.
To keep a long story short, finally one day I woke up and began to turn my life around.
I saw that fears dominated my life when I was sick. Fear of getting fat, fear of what people thought of me, fear of what I looked like, fear of how I was perceived, fear of meeting new people, fear of new places, fear of going into a place on my own. I even feared the phone ringing and would walk out of the room because I didn’t have the nerve to answer it, nor could I pluck up the courage to call up the local curry house and order a meal!
At the start of high school, I had to sit an entrance exam to see if I was eligible to go to one of the best school’s in my area. Oh, my goodness what a scene I caused! Bawling my eyes out in the carpark, petrified to go inside to sit the exam. My poor parents’ distraught thinking of what they were putting me through but knowing what opportunities would be offered to me if I could go there. One of the school’s teachers even came out to try and coax me in, eventually introducing me to two of the popular girls hoping to ease my panic. How embarrassing!!! I wanted to do it, but this tremendous fear turned me into a complete nervous wailing wreck!
This was probably my biggest fear of all…the fear of failure. If I didn’t try, I couldn’t fail. How many of you can relate to this fear? I think it’s likely the one that prevents most of us from progressing and making great leaps in our life.
I did get into that school in the end and those girls, I will never forget. I thought they must think I was pathetic, but these girls aren’t like that. I truly believe they saw my pain, did not judge me, and instead tried to help the best they could. For that, I am forever grateful.
Upon leaving school and going to university new challenges would face me, I had to live away from home, go to a university where I knew nobody, eat food at a canteen where I had less control of what I ate…but ultimately, I was going to study a subject of which I was really passionate about and excited, Marine Biology and Oceanography.
I think this is when I started to realise how my fears were holding me back, what I was missing out on. I didn’t want to live my life feeling this way, being too scared to go to new places, too scared to meet new people, too scared to try new things. And so I started to push myself, to face my fears, to purposely put myself into fearful situations to prove to myself I would still be alive at the end of it, everything would be ok!
I wanted to work with sharks and got an opportunity to volunteer in South Africa with the White Shark Trust. How scary to do a 12-hour flight to Africa on my own, meet people I had never spoken to before and live with them in this place for five weeks! But how exciting too! Whilst there we went on a day trip and visited the highest commercial natural bungee jump in the world, Bloukrans Bridge, Western Cape. Standing 216m high and jumping off a bridge is something I never wanted to do, but I would never be here again! I would regret not doing it surely! So I jumped! Well, I bent my knees as far as I could so I was as close to the ground as possible before I sort of managed to fight my impulse and fall over the edge! Haha! Best thing is I never have to feel the need to push myself to bungee again as I have done the world’s biggest now! Boom!
I wanted to continue working with sharks so had to put myself out there. I contacted shark researchers all over the world asking if I may do my MSc research project with them. I ended up working in Italy, a country where I couldn’t even converse with anyone, for two months. I actually think that was one of the hardest times of my life, extremely isolating, but an incredible amount of time for self-reflection, and I learned an enormous amount about myself there.
After uni I tried to decide what work to do, aquaculture, oceanography…I tried a few but nothing was eventuating. I remember speaking to dad about what career I could possibly do, and he said to forget the money and typical career titles; what did I want to do if I had the choice to pick absolutely anything in the world, and what did I want my life to be. My answer was to work with sharks, live by the water, be outdoors, in the sunshine, swim in the ocean, walk on the beach, be free.
I will be forever grateful to my dad for this. I am incredibly fortunate to have parents that back me in anything I want to do and try to open any doors they possibly can to make my dreams come true. They taught me to believe anything is possible, something I think so few of us are privilege to nowadays, but something that is completely and absolutely true!
If Turia Pitt can receive burns to 60% of her body, be unable to walk due to the sheer pain of her skin screaming at her…when simply being able to stand up out of bed was her best achievement for the day, yet she can then go on to complete an ultramarathon!
If Sylvester Stallone can overcome facial paralysis, and slurred speech to become one of the most successful and iconic actors….Michael Jordon can overcome being cut from his varsity basketball team in his sophomore year to become considered by many the greatest basketball player of all time…and if Steven Hawking’s determination can prevent his motor neuron disease from affecting his completion of his PhD and allow him to go on and become one of the most respected physicists, cosmologists, and authors…then truly any of us is capable of anything…as long as we want it bad enough!
Well, I wanted more sharks, and I always dreamed of Australia. THE best place for sharks! There are around 400 species of shark worldwide, and almost half of them can be found in Australia! I contacted university research labs again asking to volunteer in their labs in the hope I could gain an entry and be considered for a PhD there. That’s what brought me to Brisbane. I volunteered at The University of Queensland with the now Dr Simon J Pierce when he was completing his PhD. This introduced me to the beautiful Point Lookout at Stradbroke Island, one of my most favourite places on earth! Check out Simon’s amazing work and photography at his website and Instagram pages (he took the hammerhead shot used for this blog!). It is this opportunity that allowed me to develop connections with other researchers and ultimately get offered a position to complete my PhD there.
Whilst in Australia, what better temp work to pay the bills but a receptionist role! Face my fear of answering the phone and speaking to people I didn’t know, day in day out!
I have since gone on to face fears presenting in public, giving talks at conferences, doing video recordings, joining networking groups to meet new people, presenting in gyms, hosting expo stalls, participating in team building and bonding events (something I totally loathed being incredibly introverted), all of which I completely and utterly hated doing at the time, but now truly enjoy and see how much I gained and continue to gain from such experiences.
I still somewhat fear what people think of me but I realise there will always be some people that won’t like or resonate with me…and I probably won’t like them either! …I am OK with this now. All I am trying to do is help people, even if that’s just one person’s life that I can make a difference to, that’s what matters.
So what is my biggest achievement so far in life, my ability to acknowledge and face my fears.
This has allowed me to live a life where I can follow my dreams, have big goals, and give things a go.
Don’t become a victim of your circumstances and be a prisoner of fear.
Fear of money, fear you won’t get that job, fear you won’t get that guy/girl, fear you will look stupid, fear that venture might not work out. One of the biggest regrets that people have on their death bed is that they didn’t take that risk, that leap of faith to do more, to change.
You are in control of how you think and feel about things. Before you react the next time, you fear something ask yourself – “What is the worst that could happen?”, then ask yourself what you would do if that happened, and again what you would do if that next thing happened. I guarantee you will always find a way where things are fine. Yes, you might need to change tack but more often than not that’s what leads you on a better path anyway.
Use fear as a positive, use fear to drive you to grow. Change that voice to be the positive voice in your head – “I’m a bad ass!”, “I so got this!” Live the hashtag #JFDI !!!
The response our body gives in fear is the same as that when we are really excited. Maybe just a mindset shift to I say you are excited instead of afraid is enough to kick start you in a new direction!
Most importantly don’t be afraid to fail. It’s where we grow. Be grateful for your failures, they are what make you who you are. You failed at walking when you were born, but that didn’t stop you from learning how to.
My failures no longer justify my crappy self-worth, they are instead ways that allow me to change, grow, and develop myself into a better person.
Do you want something holding you back controlling your every move, a voice in your head questioning everything you do, always justifying why you shouldn’t do things? How many things have you missed out on because of it, how many more will you miss out on if you don’t address it? Think of who you could be without it, think of how you could feel without it, what would it allow you to do and become!
If it doesn’t challenge you it won’t change you.
Fear is defined as – a feeling induced by perceived danger or threat that occurs in certain types of organisms, which causes a change in metabolic and organ functions and ultimately a change in behavior, such as fleeing, hiding, or freezing from perceived traumatic events.
Note the key word here…”perceived”. It is not REAL!
So my challenge for you is this. Take a look at your life and discover what haven’t you been giving yourself credit for that has changed your life for the better? And more importantly, what fears could you face that would allow you to truly live your best life?
I want to leave you now with two quotes that I just love in the hope they inspire you! Please comment below and share your story, you will inspire others to face their fears too!
You can’t always control what goes on outside, but you can always control what goes on inside. – Wayne Dyer
Why not see how much you can learn? Why not see how far you can go? Why not you? Why not now? – Jim Rohn