Don’t Let Fear Get in the Way of an Authentic You

Stephanie Gaffin SLS Capital Advisors

Being true to our authentic selves is no easy task. However, we can use simple strategies to overcome the fears and barriers that hinder our ability to find our own voices and align our actions with those voices. Stephanie Gaffin, Co-Founder & Managing Partner with SLS Capital Advisors and The Gaffin Group joins us on the show today to discuss the power of meditation and journaling with regard to reaching a state of authenticity in the way we live our lives, the problem with social media and why it degrades authenticity and the fact that our thoughts cannot always be trusted and we should not let them define us. Stephanie is no stranger to challenging situations, and she shares with us a story of how she turned one of her darkest moments into something much lighter and found herself in the process. In every single situation we find ourselves in, we have a choice as to how we respond. By becoming more mindful and more in touch with who we really are, we are far more likely to make better choices, leading to better outcomes. It’s always daunting starting something new, but once you start, the hardest part is already over, and the benefits you experience from journaling and meditation will have you wishing you started sooner.

Key Points From This Episode

  • Stephanie shares her definition of authenticity: Being true to who you really are.
  • The importance of human connection and why authenticity and vulnerability create better relationships.
  • Aligning your thoughts and actions is key to authenticity.
  • Stephanie shares a story about how a funny sticker helped her feel like herself again, in the midst of a challenging experience.
  • Social media degrades authenticity because the audience only sees the “highlight reel, not the behind-the-scenes takes.”
  • Fear of judgment on social media prevents people from engaging and connecting in the virtual world.
  • It’s impossible to do things perfectly, and nobody expects that of us, so we shouldn’t put so much pressure on ourselves.
  • Learning to live in the present moment can help us manage our anxiety about the future.
  • Stephanie’s meditation journey and how this practice can help us overcome our fears and find our own authentic voices.
  • Our thoughts are not necessarily true, and we should not let them control or define us.
  • An experience that Stephanie had while skiing where she saw the benefits of her meditation practice.
  • We can only be our true, authentic selves when we remove fear and anxiety from our thoughts and actions.
  • Getting into the habit of doing something like journaling or meditating can be daunting, but you just have to start.
  • Stephanie’s call to action: Think about a situation that you have coming up and how you can show up to that as your most authentic self, and then do that.


[00:00:01] ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Branch Out, a Connection Builders podcast, helping middle-market professionals connect, grow, and excel in their careers. Through a series of conversations with leading professionals, we share stories and insights to take your career to the next level. A successful career begins with meaningful connections.

[00:00:20] AD: Hey, everyone. Welcome to the Branch Out podcast. I’m your host, Alex Drost. Today’s guest is Stephanie Gaffin, Managing Member and COO of SLS Capital Advisors, a lower middle market investment banking firm, focused on driving long-term sustainable value creation for their clients.

Stephanie is also the cohost of Right in the Middle Market, a podcast offering pragmatic perspectives on running, growing and selling your business. We dive into a great conversation on what authenticity means to us, and how our fears can get in the way of being our true, genuine selves. What a great conversation. I hope you all enjoy

[00:00:53] ANNOUNCER: Connect and grow your network. We are on LinkedIn. Search for Connection Builders.


[00:01:07] AD: Stephanie, welcome to the Branch Out podcast. I’m looking forward to our conversation around authenticity today.

[00:01:13] SG: Thanks for having me.

[00:01:14] AD: Maybe a great place to jump into, and actually, let me just set the stage for our listeners for a second. So, Stephanie and I have just spent the last 20 minutes or so having a little bit of a conversation around what is authenticity and why does it matter? Why is it hard? And really what can we do about it? We both just were laughing really hard before we started this and a funny story that Stephanie had, hopefully, she’ll share it at some point here, but one of the things that we both talked about is authenticity,it is really key to human connection. It’s key to satisfaction. It’s key to fulfillment. It’s key to a lot of things in life. And we hear the word a lot. We talk about it a lot. But what does it really mean? And why does it matter?

So, we’re going to try our best to dive into it. Obviously, Stephanie and I, neither of us are authenticity experts by any means. So, we’re going to do our best to share our thoughts around this. But to our listeners, as you’re listening through this, I love your feedback and your thoughts on authenticity and how you view it.

Stephanie, maybe the first question I’ll just throw at you is, what is authenticity and why does it matter to you?

[00:02:16] SG: There’s nothing more daunting than thinking about how do I come up with that authentic answer to something about, what is authenticity and why does it matter? Nothing like that to kind of get yourself self-conscious. When I think about it, Alex, to me, it’s about showing up as who you are, and being true to the person that you really are. I think as we chat, we’ll talk about some of the challenges. I think a lot of what’s hard about that is well, who is that exactly? Sounds like such a simple question and it isn’t always. But I think to me, it comes back to, and you and I were talking about Brené Brown. I know we’re both big fans. And she talks so much about the fact that we as human beings are wired for connection.

And when I think about how we are wired for connection, it’s so important for us to connect with other people. But that means in order to do that effectively, it has to be a connection with actually me. If there’s a facade that’s up, if you’re trying to connect two facades, there isn’t a true connection there. And that’s where, to me, that dynamic between authenticity and vulnerability becomes really important about, I have to actually be able to show up as who I am in order to truly connect with people. And that, I think from my perspective, is, I guess a little bit about what it is, but why it matters and why it’s so important.

[00:03:33] AD: I want to build on that for a minute, because I think you opened us up on a great topic. And yes, you’re right, it’s very difficult to talk about authenticity, and really come up with that. It’s a tough topic and the why it matters, this idea of being true to who you are, knowing the person who you are, and how that is really what drives your ability to build that connection, to build and connect with other people in your life and find that fulfillment, it is definitely the fundamental building block there. But it’s also very difficult to put your finger on what exactly that is.

One of the best things, and actually, you said this to me a little bit before we started the recording here, finding time to hear your own voice. And we’ll come back to how to do that a little bit later in the show. But for right now, the idea of your own voice, knowing you, knowing who you are and knowing that your thoughts are and your actions are ultimately in alignment. I think that’s the real key to authenticity. And so many of us, I think at times get stuck in just saying, “Well, I want to be authentic”, and not necessarily stepping back and say, “Okay, what does it mean to me? What does it really mean for me to be authentic? And how do I make sure that what I think and how I feel and how I act are really in alignment with my true self?”

[00:04:47] SG: Well, I think it’s an interesting question to ask yourself, but just to say, “Well, what would it look like to show up in a way that was really authentic in that situation? What would it look like and what would it take for me to act in a way that I felt really authentic?”

Okay, I’m going to give you a funny story. And this is actually not what I had told you before. So, many years ago, I was diagnosed with cancer, kind of a crappy thing to happen in life. But that’s a story for another day. And it really threw me for a loop. At one point, though, I think it took a while through the diagnostic process, which in my particular case, was pretty complicated. And it took me a while to kind of get back to feeling like me. And I remember one of the key things that I did that helped me feel like me again. And I’d had so many MRIs as they were trying to figure out exactly what was going on and where the disease was, and blah, blah, blah. And I walked in to MRI number who knows what, I’d ordered a sticker that said, “One more MRI, and I’ll stick to the fridge.” And I did a sticker because obviously a button or something like that has metal and so you can’t take it into the MRI room. So, I got a sticker. I actually thought about this, planned this, ordered it, had it shipped to me, this is how long I planned this, and walked in. And not surprisingly, the staff cracked up, right?

My surgeon cracked up and everybody is laughing because I’m walking around with this stupid sticker on my hospital gown. But for me, that was what allowed me to start to feel like I had come back to myself, that I did something that had a little bit of humor, a little bit not off-color, but kind of a cynical bit of humor. And then I was able to start to feel grounded again, through what was kind of a crummy experience.

[00:06:39] AD: I don’t want to say it’s a great story and maybe it’s a great story. You know what I mean. I like that. I think that, one, we all find ourselves in situations where we’re not – it’s hard to be ourselves, it’s hard to be our true grounded self. And especially when we hit life events and challenges in life that throw us off track, it becomes more and more difficult to find that center. And you have to find something to bring you back to that and something to be genuine into yourself.

I like your story where, “Hey, I’m going to throw a little bit of humor into this, a little bit of twisted humor into the whole situation.” But you’re able to laugh at it a little bit, you’re able to bring a smile and be grateful that you’re able to make that joke and be able to be that person. And I think again, that absolutely helps bring you back to that center and that grounding.

So, let me ask you this now and I want to talk about a little bit and we’ll tie this together of why is authenticity so hard, right? So, to be clear, it matters because it is core to human connection. It’s core to really being able to find fulfilment and find that joy, is to really be able to be your authentic self and get authenticity. It’s very hard I think in our, without being an expert in the space, to really provide a clear definition. But to me, authenticity is about your thoughts and your actions really being in true alignment and being centered to who you are. We know all that. Why is it hard? What makes being authentic hard in that context?

[00:08:10] SG: I think the first thing that I think of when you say that, Alex, is fear, right? When we talk about showing up as who we really are and we all have this concept of who we’re supposed to be, which may or may not be in perfect alignment with who we really are. But many of us have this concept of, “This is who I’m supposed to be,” and so there’s fear. And as you pointed out, it might be fear of, the fear that’s being generated by a life situation that something that’s happening in my life, but it also may just be, “Gosh, if I really show up as who I am, what does that look like?” And as I shared with you earlier, so as I was thinking about and we were planning for this podcast, I saw the movie, My Cousin Vinny. It came on TV and I’m definitely showing my age that this was not the first time I had seen My Cousin Vinny.

But for those who may be of a similar vintage or who happened to be watching TV at the same time, you remember the movie, right? So, you have the storyline of the classic New Yorker who’s now in the state of Alabama trying to convince the judge that yes, he really is a trial attorney who this judge allowed to come into his courtroom to defend a murder case, which happens to be his cousin. And they play on this whole sub plotline on the delays in the US Postal Service and the main character’s, shall we say flexible relationship with the truth, to allow him to convince that basically defer the fact that he really has no business being a murder trial attorney until the very end of the movie. And I was watching that I thought, “Wow, you could never have that plotline today,” because today, it would take all of three minutes online to find out that this guy had no business defending in a murder trial.

The flip side though, is I thought about – so this got me thinking about authenticity and social media. And the flip side to this is on social media, we all feel, number one, this pressure of, “What image am I putting out there?” And I’ve heard it said, social media is like seeing somebody else’s highlight reel and you’re seeing your own raw footage and behind-the-scenes takes. It’s this dynamic and on top of that it’s, “If  I put anything out there, somebody might not like it.” So, I risk either, “I don’t want to put anything out there and I just want to hide because otherwise, I may be criticized, I may offend somebody, even if I didn’t intend to. And so, gosh, I don’t even want to put anything out there,” or you end up trying to build up the visual of this life. And I think that’s where the – I hate to, it’s so trite to say in the age of social media it gets really hard. But I think in the age of social media, authenticity gets really complicated.

[00:10:54] AD: I want to build on that, the idea of social media making it complicated. Again, I’m not an expert in this space. But when you look at the impact of social media, and the authenticity issue, you’re spot on. At the end of the day, it’s very difficult to watch the posts and the likes of what everybody else has out there, it very quickly can become this mindset that well, that’s normal, that’s their life. Look at what they’re posting on Instagram, or look at their posts on LinkedIn, look at their posts on Facebook, or wherever it might be. But to your exact point, one, the only thing that you are seeing is the polished, perfect version of that, not the 16 iterations they did beforehand, before they actually posted it. And you get this mindset of, “Well I have to be this and maybe I’m not living up to that,” or, again, you’re seeing your own raw self behind that. And the fear concept, I want to tie into that a lot, because so many of us get to this point where, “Well, I don’t want to post something though, because I compare myself to someone else. I’m fearful of how it will make me look. I’m fearful of what others might think about it. I’m fearful for myself and what that means.”

And I do, 100% believe that gets in the way of being authentic. And that does not mean you have permission to go on social media and just post whatever you want, whenever you want. There is a level at which you need to be thoughtful in what you’re saying and what you’re portraying, but it needs to also be real and genuine to who you are. It doesn’t need to be a perfectly polished life. It doesn’t need to be, everything looks great. More importantly than any of that, regardless of what you post, don’t let those thoughts eat you up inside and discounting yourself and your life and your quality and who you are based on the perception of what you’re seeing from someone else on social media. Because it’s the quickest way to really not be authentic, to really be inauthentic, to let that get in your way, where you’re worrying about comparing yourself to what someone else might have out there and worrying about not being true to who you really are, because you’re trying to compare yourself and live up to some standards, some expectation that someone else has.

[00:12:55] SG: Either being inauthentic or simply not showing up at all, how often do you not post something, you have an interesting thought, but you get stuck saying, “Gosh, I don’t know how to word that. Maybe that’s a stupid idea.” And so, you don’t put that post. You don’t put that comment, and what’s the result of that? The result of that is you’re not engaging. And again, it goes back to that point of connection. Where, yes, that’s the virtual connection, but that is one of the ways that in today’s society that is, particularly in the time of a pandemic, but that’s one of the ways that we connect and engage with each other.

So, if I’m so self-conscious about, “Gosh, if I put that out, if I ask that question, am I going to look stupid? Am I going to come off as unknowledgeable or uneducated?” So, how often do people think about that, because they don’t have the 20 minutes to come up with the perfect two-line comment, so, they say, “Fine, I’m just not going to engage at all.” As you said, there’s a balance between brain and mouth, or brain and fingers as the case may be. But at the same time, if that filter is too strong, it really does preclude you from being able to engage and connect.

[00:14:03] AD: Is it a filter that’s preventing you or is it fear, as you pointed out, and the insecurities that come around that? Listen, we all have fear and insecurities our own ways, we all struggle, and I think it’s a constant struggle. I don’t believe there’s a light switch moment where all of a sudden, we’re fear free, or we never have an insecurity again. Rather, it’s a constant battle around that. But I’m going to bring up a movie quote that I really enjoy. And this is a quote from Afterlife, where Will Smith and so we’re quoting Will Smith here, but I really enjoy it and he says, “Fear is not real. The only place that fear can exist is in our thoughts of the future. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present, and may not ever, exist. This is near insanity. Do not misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice.”

I think that is such a powerful thought when you really sit back and think about the quote there, this idea, when we feel scared, when we feel fear, when we feel, “I don’t know if this is good enough, I don’t know if I can go do this.” So, let’s take the social media post, I can make this response and I may have someone read that and think differently of me because I didn’t have the perfect statement.  I may have messed up something around there. That could happen. Is that a big deal? Is that danger real? Is that really something I need to be worrying about? And the answer is most likely, no. But we all too often get ourselves wrapped up in this fear, this mindset of, “Well, everyone’s going to look at this and just think I’m an idiot.” No, no. That’s not what’s going to happen.

I do a decent amount of video content and my insecurity or my fear around producing is, you want to be perfect, you want to be spot on, you want to look good, you want everything to flow, and you sit there and you practice and you practice, and you do it again, and again and again. And you realize how much effort goes into trying to make it perfect, and it’s still not perfect, there’s still areas that you look at and you’re like, “Well, I could do this better. You messed that up.” And when it all comes down to it, you kind of realize that nobody really cares. The last time you watched a video or a clip of something, did you really look in detail at the way their collar was positioned, or what the background looked like from the angle they were sitting? And all these little things that we can catch ourselves getting hooked up on, and none of that’s relevant, none of that, in the real big picture of things, it’s not relevant. All that’s doing is getting in the way of ultimately letting you be your authentic version of yourself.

[00:16:36] SG: That’s a great way to say that. And I particularly like going back to that concept of, I almost think about it is the difference between fear and anxiety. And by the way, I just would like to point out that we have now quoted Will Smith and Joe Pesci in this podcast. I think we’re doing awesome. But it’s interesting, even I’m going to go one step further. The Minecraft novel that I am currently reading with my nine-year-old daughter, actually just has these amazing life lessons in this book, who’d have thunk it? But just had this great explanation between fear and anxiety, exactly what you’re saying that fear is something that is real, that is in front of us right this moment. And again, we could, you know, argue semantics, but anxiety is about something that may or may not happen.

[00:17:20] AD: Anticipation and worry.

[00:17:21] SG: That doesn’t actually add to us. It comes back to this concept of, in meditation, the idea of living in the moment and actually being in this present moment and to say, “Is that something that is a problem in this present moment? Or is this something that may or may not happen in the future?” And when you’re actually living in the present moment, you can deal with any threat that is actually occurring in this present moment, but not be projecting about what may or may not happen in the future.

[00:17:52] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, a Connection Builders Podcast.

[00:18:02] AD: Let’s take the conversation down the path of, what do we do to be more authentic? How do we achieve that? And so again, just a quick recap. So, we know that we want our thoughts and actions to be in alignment, we know that authenticity is important to connection, to building relationships, to fulfillment. And we know it’s difficult because at many times, we have this perceived thought and whether that’s through influence on social media, or our own perceptions of fear, our own perceptions of anxiety, of worry, thoughts that gets stuck in our minds that really do break the ability of us to be authentic, so the real key there is, authenticity really is in the mind as much as anything. Again, your actions have to be in alignment with that. But if you have awareness and you have intentionality and thought, it really is about being the mindsets in the way that you’re thinking through things.

So, let’s talk about, how do we get there? And you brought up meditation. Do you want to share some thoughts that you have around meditation or other tools that might be helpful in really getting to that level of authenticity?

[00:19:09] SG: Yeah, I think to me, Alex, it goes back to this concept of, what do you need to do to be able to hear your own voice? And to me, meditation is one of my favorite tools. It’s a practice that I started several years ago, of taking, and I literally started promising myself I would do one minute a day. I started one minute, but I kept that one minute. And then some nights it was five, but I said I will do at least one minute. And amazingly enough, I saw a shift from one minute a day. And I know that sounds crazy. My goal was 10, but my minimum was one and I said, “I can delay going to bed for even one minute, to do one minute of meditation,” and just to be able to start to quiet and to not hear and I don’t do anything crazy meditation. I literally sit and focus on the breath.

A couple variations on a theme but it is that opportunity to realize that the thoughts that come into your head are actually not you. They are thoughts that come into your head. And whether or not you choose to let them stay there is up to you. And you can just let them float on by. A cloud that just moves on across the sky or a leaf that moves on down the little stream, some of the visuals that I use, but to recognize that those thoughts are just thoughts, just because they popped into your head doesn’t mean you have to listen to them, doesn’t mean you have to obey them, it doesn’t actually necessarily mean that they are true.

[00:20:34] AD: You hit on, I think, all the valid points, at least that I look at from meditation. And as with you, I’ve been working through a meditation journey. I’m a little under a year into my process of trying to build a habit. I am personally a user of the Headspace app. I think it’s a phenomenal tool for that. And similar to you, it was, “Okay, I need to do a minute. I just need a minute. I just need to do it. I just needed to be in that habit.” And then you can build upon that. And I will tell you from my own experience here, I have, over the last three months or so, I’ve really ramped up my time and meditation and nothing extreme. But I get roughly 20 minutes a day is my target that I spend and it’s been the most life changing thing I’ve done. It sounded totally insane when I said to myself a year ago that I was going to meditate, because, “I just don’t have time for that. What are you talking about? I can’t sit still. I don’t have time for that.”

And to your exact point, you find a minute, you sit down, you do it. Focus on that breath, calm your mind, just recognize, become mindful of your thoughts, become more aware of where your thoughts are taking you and then slowly build that habit over time. And next thing you know, at least my experience as I continue to build that up, you start catching yourself being way more mindful in your day-to-day life. You start seeing drastic impacts. And actually, our viewers won’t be able to see this but I’m showing Stephanie my meditation rock that actually, I keep one on my desk at all times. It’s a little bit of a reminder. And it’s a little soft, edgeless smooth pebble that I have used in the past, I still use today, if I want to do an open eye meditation where it gives me something to anchor my views on. And I keep it here less because I’m meditating at my desk, and much more of them as a reminder. As a reminder of the importance, as a reminder of the act of meditating, as a reminder of my thoughts are not who I am, they are just exactly as you said, they’re just thoughts. And that little cue has done life changing things for me.

I say that, it sounds dramatic, but for anyone who has spent that time to really embrace that habit of meditating, it really can change the way you think and the way you process stuff, which all, building back to authenticity, it’s bringing that mindfulness, that awareness, that truly understanding yourself, that allows you to really be authentic, and be who you are meant to be.

[00:22:54] SG: I’d love to connect it back to fear as well. And I have a really interesting thing that happened a couple years ago. So, I love to ski. And I have an instructor in Colorado that I’ve skied with now for several years. So, he’s seen me ski across several years. And whenever we go out, I try to find a day when I can ski with him. And one year we were out, we were looking at the grooming report. And he looked and said, “Wow, there’s this one run, it’s never groomed.” And I don’t like doing mobile, so I only prefer to do groomed runs. He said, “This will be the steepest thing you’ve ever skied. But you’ll love it and you can do it.” And I trust him. He knows my ability. And so, I said, “Okay, I’m a little nervous. But okay.”

So, we decided to go because this run was actually groomed, very unusually. So, we get down and I’m standing at the top and said, “This is crazy. I can’t believe I’m about to try this run.” But I went down and this was, I had been really working on my meditation practice about this time in my life. And I got to a point where I could actually feel and recognize the fear coming up. And physically, when you’re skiing, when your fear comes up, you have a tendency to lean back in your skis, which then is the exact wrong thing to do when you’re trying to go down a very steep run. And so, because I could feel it coming up, I actually observed the change in the physical stance of my body, and then release it and let it go and adjust back to where I needed to be. I nailed it, going down this run. And a matter of fact, the screensaver on my computer is still the picture I took from the top of this run, which of course they never look as steep in the picture as they did in real life.

But it is that reminder. And so, I think just to tie back, why does mindfulness matter? Why does meditation matter? Think about if you can identify that fear coming up, see what it’s doing to you in terms of your thoughts, in terms of your body and then to be able to make a choice.

[00:24:43] AD: I couldn’t agree with you more and I think we’re going to stay on the fear topic here because I do think it is so relevant. So, you and I talked a little bit, before we jumped on recording here, about journaling and where journaling plus meditation are both very helpful tools in becoming authentic. And in this case, we’re talking around fear side of it. I want to share some of my own experience and it’s similar but different story to what you’re saying.

So, a lot for myself, I have been working to develop and to build a journaling habit. And when I find myself in challenging situations and things that I get fearful of, and recording podcasts, putting together podcasts, there is undoubtedly a level of fear. Stephanie’s not in your head right now, because she hosts her own podcasts which we will be linking in the show notes here. You got to make sure to go check it out, Right in the Middle Market.

When I am putting together this show and this has been a project I’ve been working on for a little over six months now. And I get a lot of fear, especially early on, a lot of anxiety around that. Even this morning, I had a little bit of anxiety about, “Okay, I’m doing a few recordings today.” And you start getting those thoughts running in your mind. And for me, I journal and I journal quite a bit at this point. It’s a habit that I have built and literally this morning, I journaled about how well I was going to do recording this podcast, how everything was going to go great. And I talked through it, and it’s just me talking to myself, it’s me writing to myself in that process. It’s taking control of what those thoughts are, and just laying it out for myself to know what it is. And talking myself through those irrational fears, I could feel myself, even in that moment of writing, and even when I sat down here, when you and I first started, I took a deep breath, I can feel that tension but I can also feel myself being able to say, “No, I’m good. I’m here. I’m here, I feel good. And this is where I’m supposed to be.”

It doesn’t mean there’s not anxiety behind it. It doesn’t mean that I don’t feel some of that. But it’s, “Do I let it control me? Do I let it drive who I am? Do I let it get in the way of being authentic and really just being myself?” I fully believe that the writing and the meditation together can be such a powerful tool for gaining control of those thoughts, taking control of that fear, taking control of that anxiety and really being your authentic self. But I would love to hear, I think you have some experience around this as well.

[00:27:01] SG: I think I’m a lot less disciplined than you are. I would call myself maybe a foxhole journaler. But it is one of my guerilla tactics that I know that I can pull out. And so again, if I keep coming back to this concept of finding your own voice, the time when I tend to go back to journaling, and I always feel better when I do it. And I will admit, I don’t make time for it as often as one might think I would, given how much better it makes me feel. But when I tend to turn to that is when I have the thoughts swirling in my head, and I simply cannot – I’m getting lost in them. And what I find is when I sit down and do just a brain dump, and literally start writing down all of those thoughts that are swirling through my head, and scribble furiously, and you can barely read the handwriting. But it never ceases to amaze me.

You do that for five minutes. It doesn’t have to be a long time. And all of a sudden, my mind starts to say, “Okay, well, I just needed to be able to say that.” And now that I’ve said that, and then I can start to work through and I like how you talk about it, that it’s a conversation with yourself, and start to work through what’s underlying that? And again, where is the voice that’s mine and where’s the voice that I choose? And I think to me, that’s part of what matters as well, this comes down to, we each get to make a choice, and you get to make a choice about how you respond.

I’m a big fan of Jack Canfield and he talks about E plus Rr equals O, right? An event plus our reaction equals the outcome. And that outcome, that O, becomes the next E. And so, we don’t get to choose the events that happen to us in life. We do to a degree, but often, those events come, right? Externalities. But you always get to choose your response. So, I chose to put a sticker on my hospital gown. But that was my way of bringing a little bit of control back to that event. When you journal, when I journal, what I find is, I’m able to sift through all of this swirling and start to get rid of the extraneous thoughts and start to figure out both which ones are really me but also which one do I choose? How do I want to show up in that situation? And that I think, to me, is the crux of authenticity.

There isn’t one, this is who you are, you know, etched in stone and you know that’s it forever and ever. It’s how are you growing as a person and how do you want to show up in life? Who do you want to be? Do I want to choose to respond to that situation with anger or humor or compassion or stoicism or any number of responses? But how do you want to show up in that situation?

[00:29:42] AD: I love what you said there, “The voice I choose.” And I think that is such a powerful statement just to think on for a minute. When it comes down to our thoughts, we all get in those head swirling moments where you’ve got a million things going on, not just overwhelmed because of all the stuff in life, but think about it in the fear aspect or the insecurities, the anxiety, the worry, that’s typically because your mind is racing and all these things that could go wrong, all the bad things. And at the end of the day, you get to choose what your thoughts are, right? That’s the beautiful thing about being human is we have the executive function, we have the frontal cortex that allows us to really take control and not just be driven by our instincts, our emotions, or some of our general reactions, but rather to really decide that voice.

Most of the time, it’s really easy to just not think about that, to just have whatever voice comes, just happen to you. And unless you find the space and the time to slow yourself down and think about that, it’s near impossible to really stay in full control, especially in a heated, tense time, like when you’re in a fear mode, or in anxiety mode and the journaling, the dumping your thoughts out. And this is something, for our listeners, and anyone who knows me well, I talk about the power of journaling, quite often. And everyone says to me, “Well, how do you get started? I just don’t even know how to journal. I sit there and stare at a blank page and nothing happens.” But just, any thought that is in your mind, start writing it down, just get it out. For me, I type, I don’t handwrite, I type my journals. And if you go back, and the journals are for me, no one reads them but me and I don’t even really go back and read all that many of them. I’ll skim them once in a while just for memories.

But if you try to read it, half of it, especially when I’m spun up, half of it, they’re not complete sentences, for sure. Three quarters of it at times is just like a blocky thought and there’s certainly stuff that they’re not even words in there. I don’t even know what I was trying to say. But that was me getting myself out, my thoughts out, and once, exactly as you said, once they’re out, you start to be able to take control. And then you start building on the thoughts that are important to you, the thoughts that you want to embrace and who you are. Tying this all back to authenticity, what that allows you to do is that you overcome that fear, you overcome that anxiety, that challenge, those thoughts that are limiting you, and taking you away from who you really want to be. And they allow you to come back to who you are and to say, “Okay, I think this way. I’m going to approach it this way, because that’s who I am. And I’m in control of that.”

That’s authenticity. Ultimately, when you are in that control, and then you’re acting in the way that you’re thinking, that’s how you really do get to that authentic level and not let the fear and anxiety get in the way.

[00:32:26] ANNOUNCER: This is Branch Out, bringing you candid conversations with leading middle-market professionals.

[00:32:34] SG: You’d be amazed how many times I’ve started a journaling session with, “I don’t even know what I want to write about today.” But it’s amazing. You start writing or you just start with, “I’m mad, and I don’t know why.” Or, “I’m frustrated,” or, “I’m scared or I just don’t feel right today and I don’t know why.” But, it’s amazing what’ll happen if you just start and isn’t it crazy, right? All of these things, meditation, you and I both talked about, if you can start with one minute, 10 minutes, 20 minutes, but even 1 minute, 5 minutes, 10 minutes. If you just pick up the pen or type, I still am an old-fashioned Moleskine notebook, I was actually looking to see if from where I’m sitting, I could reach, and even though I’m not doing as much journaling at the moment, I still carry it with me. I’m a big fan of the thin Moleskine notebooks with a hairband around them so that I can keep the pen I like right inside and so I would have it with me. It’s amazing that when you have that kind of – sometimes I call it free floating angst. My husband and I call it free floating angst. And you’re like, “Gosh, I’m just anxious and I don’t even know why.”

Journaling, often I can start to discover what’s fueling that or to actually go through and say, “You know what, actually nothing.” So, in which case just, let’s just go ahead and let that go because there’s really nothing wrong.

[00:33:51] AD: I love it. I think honestly, it’s such an important point for people to remember is, you just have to take one minute, just to start building the habit, start just understanding what the habit is, why you’re trying to build it, and in the context of what we talked about here, it really is authenticity and overcoming some of the fear, the anxiety, the worry, the challenges that get in the way there.

So, this has been a phenomenal conversation. I want to just recap a couple points here, chime in with anything I missed here. But starting from the top, we started our conversation talking about authenticity, what is it and why is it important? And we said that really, it’s about making sure our thoughts and actions are in alignment. And that it’s key to building connection, to being fulfilled, to really being who you are as a human and opening up is finding that authenticity.

We talked about it being really hard and you brought up My Cousin Vinny, I quoted Will Smith. So, that’s where we’re at in this podcast at this point. What that all boiled down to was fear, anxiety, worry, angst, those thoughts that get in the way of really being who you are, and becoming aware of those thoughts and recognizing that you are not your thoughts, and that those are limiting beliefs or limiting thoughts that do prevent you from achieving that authenticity. And then we took the conversation to some skills that really help us become better at achieving that authenticity and finding that levelness. And that was meditation and journaling.

As we both said, I think it’s been life changing for both of us and a huge tool that we both use in our lives when needed. And the key behind that is just start, just one minute of it, start small and build on it, just start getting those thoughts out there. And what I’d really love to ask and just throw out as a call to action for any of our listeners here is, if you haven’t meditated or journaled before, find time in the coming week to do both. One minute of meditating. Just one minute, sit down, take some deep breaths, clear your mind and just focus on your breathing. And just do that, just do it for a minute a day. Just see how that makes you feel. And actually, if you have the Apple Watch, you can even turn on the reminder to breathe, and I love that feature. And then write something, find time to journal, just write your thoughts out. If you can do it once a day, great. If you can do it once a week, great. Just find some time in your day to really write down your thoughts. You’d be surprised at how much that will help you gain clarity and insight on where you’re really at. Stephanie, anything to add there?

[00:36:21] SG: Two things, I think one, so, I actually am a big fan of the Calm app. I know Headspace as well, but I had been a Calm user for years. And they have a couple of great series about how to meditate, that are 7 to 12-minute chunks a day. And that’s how I first started and first learned because I felt like I wanted to start meditating and I had no idea what to do. So, it felt really daunting and overwhelming. I think it’s called the 7 Days of Calm, and then the 21 Days of Calm, and it’s a really nice, about 10 minutes, and it has one or two minutes of, “Here’s a basic concept. Now, we’re actually going to give you a few minutes to meditate. Now, we’re going to wrap up with that concept.” So, it’s a very easy way to get started. I found it a very helpful beginner’s guide to meditation. So, that’s one thing I’ll throw out.

The second thing, Alex, that we talked about that I’d like to bring into, kind of the wrap up as well, is this concept of intentionality and tying that to choice. So, I think so often, when we have fear, when we have anxiety, and I think there’s different times of what’s happening in the world that that can become overwhelming, not to mention what may be happening in your own personal or professional life. And so that concept of, “How do I choose? How do I show up as my authentic self? And how do I recognize and manage that fear so that it doesn’t keep me from being who I am?” I think that would be, I guess, my call to action would be to encourage somebody to think about a situation that’s coming up. A conversation, it could be something as simple as having dinner this evening with your spouse, or your friend or your family. Just think about, “How do I want to show up? What would it feel like to show up to that event?” It could be a meeting, it could be whatever it is. And what would it look like for me to show up to that as authentically myself, and then take that action, and see how that feels, and then reflect on it in your journaling later that day.

[00:38:23] AD: That’s great advice. I wrote that down. I’m taking that advice myself for today. So, I really appreciate that. Stephanie. Stephanie, I really appreciate you coming on the show here, contributing to our listeners and sharing your thoughts on authenticity and overcoming some of the fear and anxiety and challenges around that.

Now, as I mentioned earlier, you host the podcast, you wanted to share for a quick minute, the name of your show, and just a little bit about what you guys do in your podcast?

[00:38:47] SG: Yeah. So, we host the podcast called Right in the Middle Market and it is all about running, growing and selling your middle market business. So, it is a great podcast to listen to, for anybody who is either a middle market business owner or leader or an advisor to those kinds of businesses.

[00:39:02] AD: Love it. And we’ll make sure to link that in the show notes. And if any of our listeners want to get in touch with you, what’s a good way to get in touch?

[00:39:09] SG: Yeah, I would love to connect and to hear thoughts and feedback. You can find me on LinkedIn, or shoot me an email at [email protected].

[00:39:18] AD: Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Stephanie. Enjoyed the time today and looking forward to doing it again soon.

[00:39:23] SG: Thanks for having me.


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