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Losing (and finding) my voice
Insights on ethical entrepreneurship (+ an exciting update)
Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with a medical condition called Unilateral Vocal Fold Paralysis. It was one of the strangest things that’s happened to me.
Due to a complication with prolonged laryngitis, the soft tissue surrounding my voice box inflamed to the point where my left vocal chord was completely paralyzed. Weird, I know.
It wasn’t just that I lost my voice. I kinda lost myself in the process. It’s hard to explain this bizarro experience, but I’ll try.
Firstly, it physically hurt to speak. Even so much as a whisper made me gasp for air. Because I was relying on only one functioning vocal chord, the airflow to my lungs was severely incapacitated. As a result, I developed a stutter because my brain was producing the words faster than I could pronounce them. Even when I slowed my speech down to the cadence of a stroke patient, I struggled to articulate my thoughts. It was excruciating to speak, think, and breath at the same time. I found myself having to enunciate each word carefully in my head to avoid saying the wrong word; even so, certain combination of sounds clashed on the way out and made me speak in gibberish. This lead to a kind of mental hiccup where I had trouble finding the right words, or they would come out scrambled in true dyslexic fashion. Everyday conversations made me feel confused, frustrated, and out of control. A lack of oxygen made me feel lethargic and discombobulated. I didn’t have energy to exercise. I couldn’t think through the intense brain fog so I struggled with reading and writing. It disrupted my life to the point where I couldn’t carry on my normal activities. I stopped socializing.
My voice changed and became unrecognizable. I got depressed.
The whole ordeal lasted for 10 weeks, which is a manageable time frame to not completely lose my mind; the problem is that it took half that time to figure out what was going on with me, or how long it would last. Doctors said that the prognosis for this condition was anywhere from a few months to a few years, with the possibility of needing vocal chord surgery if my body didn’t recover on its own. I think that was the worst part of it. The uncertainty.
Anyway, thankfully my body healed in record time and I got my voice back. But what did not bounce back as easily was my confidence.
Losing my voice
Losing my voice over 10 weeks was a slow and painful process of noticing my confidence slowly erode over time. A little bit of my self-assuredness would chip away every time I had a brain fart mid-sentence, or my words would get minced and reduced to a stutter. Or, when every third word I said was nearly incomprehensible. Or, when I spoke so softly that people had a hard time hearing me, so they stopped listening and I felt invisible.
Of course, it’s perfectly normal that a serious health complication would shake anyone’s confidence; and for me, this particular event triggered something even deeper: feeling chronically inadequate.
For much of my adult life I felt like an imposter. I didn’t feel like I belonged in certain spaces or around people who I thought were ‘out of my league.’ Much of my sense of accomplishment was driven by a need to ‘prove’ myself, if at least to my own superego. Even when I was accepted into one of the top graduate schools in the country, I felt certain that I was there by mistake—that I must have barely slipped through the admission cracks. I suffered my first panic attack in grad school from the anxiety built up around being ‘found out’ that I’m an imposter.
One of the biggest reasons that I pursued entrepreneurship was a desire to pave my own path. I’ve always been drawn to different subjects and disciplines, so I dared to dream of a career path that accommodated my diverse interests and passions.
I was certain that pursuing my dreams of entrepreneurship would ‘fix’ my imposter syndrome, but it only made it worse. In fact, starting an entrepreneurial venture from a place of perceived lack and inadequacy turned out to be pretty disastrous for my mental health. It’s one of the factors that lead to my burnout two years in. This is when I almost quit.
Any entrepreneur will tell you that the hardest part of the process is believing in yourself, especially if you already suffer with imposter syndrome (which coincidentally many entrepreneurs do).
Needless to say, I did not believe in myself when I embarked on this entrepreneurial journey. I was not mentally and emotionally prepared for what it would take to ‘make it’ in this venture. To compound to the anxiety of not ‘making it,’ was the toxic messages around the notion of ‘get rich quick’ which, as you know, promote unrealistic expectations and a constant sense of urgency that can only ever be met by chronic dissatisfaction. My entrepreneurial journey was built on the foundation of influencer culture, hustle culture, girl boss culture, new-age spirituality, and cult dynamics. I did not know about business; I did not understand the real-world metrics of success; and I certainly did not have the long-term strategies to evaluate measurable outcomes like risk assessment and ROI.
It’s hard to believe that I’m still on this path of entrepreneurship and I managed to make it to the other side without scamming anyone or suffering huge financial loss.
I’m not saying it was easy, but I did a lot of work on myself to get to a place where I feel confident in my role as an entrepreneur. This is why it bummed me out to notice old feelings of inadequacy creep up during those 10 weeks I lost my voice due to my medical condition. But now that it’s behind me, I can appreciate how the experience served as a much needed (and humbling) reminder of how far I’ve come in my entrepreneurial journey and the importance of acknowledging what it really takes to build an ethical business in this cannibalistic, dog-eat-dog market.
One of the biggest lessons for me is that ethical entrepreneurship demands more than what we usually hear about grit, stamina, consistency, dedication, mindset work, healing work, strategy, etc. No doubt these qualities are also important, but ethical entrepreneurship takes it one step further by requiring the ONE THING that this culty, capitalist system of inter-eating cannot give or take away from us—and that’s our VOICE.
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Finding my voice
Here’s the thing: being able to speak is not the same as having a voice. It’s the subtle yet important difference between having an identity (which is something you adopt), and becoming an individual (which is something you cultivate from within). This is perhaps the most valuable insight for me in the first 5 years of ethical entrepreneurship, and something that I look forward to sharing more with others on a similar path.
It becomes clear how much our voice is connected to our confidence when we frame it through the context of individuality. And if you think about it, it makes sense: The more crystallized you are within, the more confidently you can use your voice to express yourself. As someone who struggled with self-identity for most her life, I really had to work on the crystallization part. In fact, this is what attracted me to the spiritual path and drew me into the OSHO cult—the promise of individuality fulfilled through our seekerhood. Unironically, being in the cult was the first time in my life that I felt like I actually belonged somewhere. Ironically, it was also a time that I was most disconnected from my true self, though I had a strong (cult) identity. That’s the paradox of cult dynamics. Your sense of belonging comes at the cost of your individuality.
Finding my voice after my cult experience was its own journey, especially as it coincided with building my business and infusing my cult identity into every aspect of my brand. To be honest, it made me feel stuck in my business, but it’s within this stuckness that I was able to refine my voice, nurture an authentic audience, and mature my brand to where it feels most aligned with my values. It’s within the stuckness that I was able to redefine what success means to me, ditch the vanity metrics, and find a WHY that was bigger and more compelling than my crippling self-doubt. My stuckness gave me no other choice but to practice the exact principles that I preach about ethical entrepreneurship, authentic leadership, and building a brand for social impact. And it all starts with your voice, your individuality, and the freedom to define yourself outside the cult dynamics of the capitalist patriarchy.
So, as I turn a corner in my entrepreneurial journey and officially re-launch SWS 2.0, I look back on the last 5 years with a sense of accomplishment, appreciation, and satisfaction with how much I’ve grown my brand into an entity I can feel proud of. Although there are parts of the story that I’m still making peace with, I honor the full circle moment that represents the beginning of the end of my search for a career path that lights up my soul and feels uniquely, authentically true to me.
🚀 With that, I’m excited to announce the launch of my new website; and to commemorate, you can read part 2 of this post on my blog: 5 Lessons from 5 years of ethical entrepreneurship. If you are pursuing entrepreneurship or are an aspiring content creator, this blog post is for you!
To my readers, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for being here, reading my words, and supporting my work with your attention and time. In the sea of creators and subscribers, I’m grateful that you choose to be a part of this community.
Some of you have been following my journey since the first iteration of SWS, which was Mindfulness with Margo. And a few of you were even with me from the very start, when it was Cosmic Flexibility and my page was about mindful movement. Needless to say, it has been an honor sharing these parts of my story with you; and if you’re new here, I hope you feel inspired to continue following along on this incredible adventure.
Let’s keep going, keep growing, keep learning, sharing, seeking, and SPEAKING what’s on our mind and in our hearts (even when it seems like no one is listening). When I first started sharing my words on the internet, my only readers were my mom and a few of my friends. Now there are over 2k people in my audience who are a driving force behind my bigger why. I wouldn’t be here without you. I appreciate you.
I’d love to hear how this landed for you! Where are you at in your entrepreneurial journey? What inspired you to pursue this path?
Thanks again for reading and don’t forget to take a quick peek at my beautiful new website seekwithser.com. 🙂
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