Story 25

The remaining options gave me cold sweats

Hi, I’m Alexandra, the human behind this issue of Upstairs. I have been writing content professionally for more than 10 years and have recently turned to entrepreneurship in communication. When I am not in front of my laptop, I like to cook, read, and keep my passion for cinema alive with the latest movies.

What am I doing here if I can’t answer one simple question?

I am no more than fifteen. I am at a summer camp for teenagers and children rewarded for their good performances in school, sports, or other vocational fields. I am here because I just won a special prize at the Romanian Language and Literature National Competition, but I don’t really feel part of this group, to be honest.

The ball is being passed on from one kid to another, and I feel it getting closer and closer. My palms are sweating. The trainer has a challenge for us: whoever gets the ball has to say a few words about what they want to be when they grow up. Oh, this tedious question again! Everyone expects us to say something great; after all, we are all here because we already seem to have made a choice in our profession, right?

Well, not true for me, although all the other kids seem to have nuanced responses and very defined options. The ball is in my hands now: “I don’t really know.” Hundreds of inquisitive eyes are probably asking themselves what am I doing here if I can’t answer one simple question.

The truth is that for a lot of time, I struggled with defining my professional (and personal) identity; with finding my place and my voice. And it is a bit ironic that I say “voice,” since although today I am a Business Partner in a communication agency, my introverted past is more linked to artistic hobbies than to a pragmatic way of seeing things. Looking back, I wouldn’t have guessed my career path, and I wouldn’t have said that odds were particularly in my favor when thinking about entrepreneurship or communication.

I am six. I like to sing, and I am in love with Madalina Manole’s music (one of my countries’ famous singers of the past). I am home alone with my grandmother. I’m in the middle of one of my artistic parading moments on top of the basement that my father is building at home. One too many spins and one wrongfully placed foot to the left, and I find myself below ground level, directly on the basement’s floor with the cold concrete pushing against my back. I am unharmed, although I could have easily fractured my spine on the stairs when I fell from two meters.

I definitely love to sing since this near-death moment didn’t scare me at all. When it’s just me, I feel that I can cope with almost anything: I can make mistakes, I can handle it, I can be OK no matter what. Everything still has a solution. 

I got cold sweats when being asked about what I wanted to be

At eleven, I officially start singing lessons. I wake up once a week at 5 AM, catch the morning bus, and arrive in the city at 7. For no less than five years of music lessons, I travel my way through car sickness and through having to be back at school until noontime, in my small village, 20 km far from the city, where I still get picked on by the other kids for my interest in music.

All this, on and on until one day. That stupid moment during my first show in front of a big audience. The one that made me give this up without blinking: stage fright. I discovered it during a completely ruined performance: my arm would go numb, my stomach would cringe with fear, and all those 7 AM rehearsed notes would refuse to get out in the world. Somehow, when there was no pressure to perform, everything was great. But the moment I felt I “had to” raise to some standards, the pleasure of singing disappeared.

What falling from two meters didn’t manage to do, finding myself alone in front of strangers that were eager to hear me sing accomplished in a blink of an eye. It was enough to make me give up my “music career” before it began. It turns out I was not made for this after all. One option down.

What alternatives did I have back then? The artistic field prevailed. I loved to draw until one of my primary school teachers scolded me for one bad representation of a vase. Another one down. I never wanted to draw anything after that. I also wanted to be an actress, although I think I was more drawn to it by mistake after watching all existing soap operas as a kid. To be honest, it was never a real option to consider. Still two down.

No wonder that until I was eleven, I got cold sweats when being asked about what I wanted to be. In my head, I was already left without viable options.

So, I quickly decided to focus on school. I knew I wanted to get myself out of the small village I grew up in, and education seemed to be the key. This is how, when I reached high school, I was the outsider girl. I was coming from “the countryside to compete with the town kids.”

Unfortunately, competition is what school was great at feeding. Until I finished my high school years, I was already deeply hurt by a system that encouraged proving your personal worth through the grades or prizes received. I checked all the boxes because I thought that was the only way. Also, for a child with frail self-confidence and self-image, like I was back then, school was the perfect external validator to cling on.

But when looking at the real important questions, I was clueless. What did I like? What I really wanted to do? What was next for me? These were things that school didn’t teach me how to discover.

I was the introvert in disguise

A passion for writing saved me. It soon became my fallback, my (at first clumsy) way of expressing myself and making myself heard. If I couldn’t have the singing voice, the drawing inner voice, or the loud soap opera inspiration, I still had a chance of some other kind of voice: in writing. But what could I do with this? I had no idea. Preconceptions about being a “poor teacher,” a journalist, or a “starving writer” had already got to me, so I chose what I thought to be the next best thing: communication.

Little did I know about what it really meant, and little did I ask myself if I was really suited for this. Especially since most of my university colleagues listed the “I like to speak” reason as the main one for pursuing this career. I was frightened. I was the introvert in disguise who could not think of proper ways of talking to strangers or maintaining small talk. What was I going to do?

I decided to give it a go. After it became very clear that the university showed only a tiny part of what a communicator meant, I decided to get employed and see for myself if I really liked this profession. I entered the agency’s door, my first serious job, when I was 21 and left almost nine years later.

Try and see if things can be different if you are creating them

I struggled with “I am not a quitter” syndrome and with leaving that job, even when I started asking myself serious questions about whether that environment really supported me or made me doubt myself even more. Of course, that is the place where I grew professionally, where I also realized that I liked what I did and that I easily understood how businesses worked. But it is also the place I had felt stuck into for a while, and that showed me, once again, that our ability to get used to certain things, although they make us suffer, is tremendous compared to our wish of making a change that we are not sure about.

My change felt huge for me, as I said “It’s now or never” to myself. After working in an agency for so long, I was going to try being on my own, although security was my main go-to soothing mechanism. I was finally going to see if things can be different if you are creating them differently from the start, although I often doubted myself when I was in charge. I was ready to try the thing that would challenge every narrative I grew up thinking about myself: that I was never good enough, that I always had to struggle, that I had to be in control all the time.

At the end of 2019, I took on this new journey of becoming a Business Partner, and everything I thought I knew about myself started changing. Shortly after, que in the pandemic, this antagonistic character in everyone’s narrative today. Maybe this was supposed to be my number three? Three down?

Useless to say, I struggled with all the feelings: panic, uncertainty, anxiety, stress, cringy stomach ache. But, somehow, this time, I didn’t want to walk off the stage. I didn’t want to quit. The leap felt bigger than the one from the top of my basement, but I decided I wouldn’t allow it to scare me. Little by little, reality showed me that things were never really unstable or at risk, business-wise, for us. So, still two down.

I have to be careful and mindful

It’s only been one and year and a half, but I feel that I have been doing this for a long time. I may have tested entrepreneurship in what seems to be its toughest bootcamp, but I also feel this accelerated my understanding of things.

I know now that it is possible to end up doing a lot of the things you never considered yourself capable of. I’ve learned that not only the people who know what they want to be since they are little are OK, but the others are too (with no regrets for not following my music passion after all). I found out that having a business can mean passing an endurance test every day, but the happy moments are worth it and are much more intense as well.

And, most important, I discovered that I have to be careful and mindful. Not that I have to, but that it comes naturally and it’s key in life. Entrepreneurs often tend to ignore themselves and their needs, and one can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of work and perfectionism. What I do continuously teaches me to set boundaries (or rapidly shows me what happens when I don’t), to make decisions, to trust myself – all of the things I gracefully avoided my entire life. And it is beautiful and painful at the same time. But it is how I grow.

I can’t wait for someone to throw that ball at me again!

Keep creating options,

Contributors of this story: Alexandra Enăchescu wrote this gem, Oana Filip provided feedback and edited it, Andrei Ungurianu put it all together, George Olaru designed it, Răzvan Onofrei was in charge with the development, Ioana Dodan took the photo.

A question by Alexandra, the author of this story:
Which things that you thought you couldn't do turned into professional options after all?

Conversations 2 comments

Let's start a personal, meaningful conversation.

Example: Practical philosopher, therapist and writer.

LJ Franksays:
Relevant commenter background or experience:Philosopher/

Alexandra,This is good writing…insightful and inspires some philosophical questions. Thanks for sharing.My best, LJ Frank

You are very kind, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts with me. 🙂 

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