Last year was a tough year… and that’s putting it nicely.

I promise you, this is not another negative tirade about COVID and the path of destruction it has caused. Just typing that word — COVID — makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

Instead, I am focusing forward.

After delaying a year, I am finally checking a big goal off of my personal checklist. Earlier this month, I launched a podcast. Because of COVID, I had to delay all episodes of “Pieces of Me,” never thinking that when 2021 came, we would still be dealing with this pandemic. But I decided to move forward anyway, regardless of the timing, regardless of my fear.

You see, friends, fear has been holding me back for as long as I can remember.

A dear friend recently told me that I am a “woman of influence.”

What?! She said because I invite people along my personal and professional journey — the highs, lows, challenges and successes — I am an influencer.

Wow. Her words hit me.

I often discredit compliments, deflect conversations that are about me, and downgrade any accomplishment I have achieved. But, WHY?

I have achieved dreams in ways I never thought were possible, and in doing so, it fueled even bigger goals. When I was 28 years old, I was a teacher with a special education degree, married, with a 3-year-old.

I decided to quit my job and open a nonprofit organization to serve people like my brother — individuals in my community with intellectual disabilities. The move was a huge leap of faith, and meant less salary. Looking back, I had no idea what I was doing, but at the same time I knew exactly what I was doing.

I remember one day, within the first year of Puzzle Pieces, I had a meeting with the city’s event manager to discuss an idea I had of an upcoming fundraiser. (Now that I opened a nonprofit, I had to be creative with ways to keep it open.)

I said to him, “If I fail at making Puzzle Pieces successful, will you hire me to plan events for the city?” I will never forget that day, and many days that followed, where I was designing my back up plan for when I failed.

There was an absolute need for the service I had created within my nonprofit; however, I didn’t believe that I could personally execute something so important to me and others.

At every turn, I was waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under me. I doubted my ability and was scared of failing, but somehow I still managed to pursue forward.

Over the last eight years, I have, with the help of an amazing team, grown from seven employees to over 60, creating growth which took us from a $234,000 operating budget to now $2.4 million, while increasing our impact from 32 individuals with disabilities to now over 170 individuals weekly.

So why have I doubted myself? It wasn’t until recently that I connected the deeply-rooted reason why I am scared of achieving success and when I do, I still doubt the process and impact I have on others to childhood bullying.

I don’t have a story of intense trauma, but it was enough emotional bullying that left a lasting impact on my self-esteem and confidence.

But, shouldn’t we overcome this as we become adults? Of course, the bullying goes away and our lives move on, however that pain is subconsciously left in our decision making without us even knowing.

Fast forward to today. I am 36 years old, just now discovering the root of why I am hesitant to chase my dreams, and those negative comments from middle schoolers continue to make me hesitate.

Believe it or not, professional peers continue to make those same degrading comments that cause me to second guess myself, sometimes daily.

Someone recently told me, “Well, it’s easier for you because you are pretty and outgoing.”

Are you kidding me!? This woman, who is a peer in my field, just discredited all the hours I put in to acquire the skills to succeed.

Another respected professional said, “There were many of us waiting for you to fail, but you never did.”

Remarks like this are no different than what I heard 25 years ago. It reinforces my fear of pursuing my dreams and enables the self-doubt that I have created in my mind. I have to continue to tune out these negative voices and find the strength within to continue dreaming.

Somehow, deep inside me and with my faith in God, which gives me strength, I continue to make definitive steps to achieving my dreams, even though I’m scared.

So what are you scared of? What have you been putting off out of fear of failure or ridicule?

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that we can make it through difficult times, overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. I want to encourage you to do the thing that makes you scared, because, more than likely, that means it’s worth doing.

Amanda Owen is the founder and executive director of Puzzle Pieces. Follow Amanda’s Blog and podcast Pieces of Me: Perspectives on Inclusion and Acceptance,

Amanda Owen is the founder and executive director of Puzzle Pieces. Follow Amanda’s Blog and podcast Pieces of Me: Perspectives on Inclusion and Acceptance,

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