My parents used to get emails from concerned teachers saying how painfully shy, disconnected, and troubled I was. Those words were an understatement. I frequently found myself cowering in a bathroom stall wondering how I could make it through the school day. Every time I opened to mouth to speak, or even to eat, I was ashamed. It felt as if I was trapped in a fishbowl, constantly on display for the entire world to jeer at and scrutinize. I wanted nothing more than to melt into the crowd and become invisible to escape the imaginary criticism, and so I did. I changed the way I dressed, the way I fixed my hair, and even my handwriting in order to be as average as possible. My individuality was thrown into a box of fear and wrapped up with conformity. I had so much to say, so many ideas to share, so many risks to take, but I was too terrified to even carry on a simple conversation. The fear of judgment, failure, and rejection kept me locked in my mind--isolated.

So many of us face the fears I had, at least to some degree. How many times have you stayed home from the gym because you didn’t want anybody to see you struggling to lift those weights? How many times have you missed the opportunity to audition for a musical or try out for a team because you were afraid you’d look silly? How many times have you swallowed your brightest words because you were terrified that they wouldn’t shine? It’s so easy to keep a lid on our ambitions because taking off that lid exposes us, makes us vulnerable, and opens us up to failure.

But a life of staying inside and living with a lid on is far worse than a life marked with failures and downfalls, because a life marked with failures and downfalls is a story. There is nothing more satisfying than looking back and thinking, wow, I actually did that. If you put yourself out there and do whatever it is you thought you could never do, you create the novel of your life, with failures as its plotline. I promise you, once you keep putting yourself out there and proving that you’re brave enough to try, you will begin to succeed. And the joy that flows from success is far stronger than the embarrassment of the failures before it.

None of this is easy by any means. I did not wake up one morning and decide that I would never worry again. That would go against the messy, complex nature of anxiety. Rather, it was a process that took years of tedious baby steps and the courage to ask for help. Even now, I can’t lie and say that I don’t struggle every day with the aching mental loop of what-ifs. But I have grown immeasurably, and I have full faith that every individual who decides to begin the journey towards confidence can do the same. If the girl who was too terrified to come to school in anything but a plain Aeropostale tee shirt could grow up and attend her senior homecoming in a banana costume (yes, I did that), you can go the gym and lift those weights. If the girl who couldn't give a presentation without feeling faint now has dreams to teach a class of elementary school students, you can audition for that musical or try out for that team. Crush the voice inside you that’s telling you no. Soar above the people who have told you that you’re too young, too weak, too short, too tall. Find the dreams you gave up on and believe me--no matter how long you have been hidden in fear, it is never too late to step out of the shadows.