Aneesa reveals one more of her role models and announces her public speaking websiteAneesa Muthana
“Never shy away from the challenge of reinventing yourself. The hardest time in my life became my most defining moment.”
These words, spoken by one Nicole Malachowski, light like a beacon. You can read more about her story here, but medical concerns ended her days of being a fighter pilot in the US Air Force. What do you do when circumstances beyond your control clip your wings and take away your purpose, livelihood, and identity? Faced with two choices—grow or give up—Nicole chose the former. She now earns a living as a high-demand public speaker and consultant, where she now inspires others to face adversity with courage and conviction.
My journey from business owner to public speaker is nowhere near as dramatic, but I can’t help but feel some kinship with Nicole. Both of us knew we had to grow. While my choice was much more voluntary, the consequences of that choice were the same.
It was time to say goodbye to my comfort zone. Part of me definitely disagreed and would’ve preferred to hit Snooze on that plan until I forgot about it. I had doubters other than myself. I overheard some conversations wondering about what I could possibly say beyond “I inherited the family business and learned everything I know from Dad.”
While neither of those are true, the words stung. I had no experience speaking to a room of people, no formal education, and no plan. Even so, another part of me (thankfully louder than my doubting self) knew it was the way ahead. Given my roles as an advocate for both women and manufacturing, it felt more irresponsible to not do it. Besides, I had to prove the haters wrong!
In 2017, at my first speaking event, I was sharing the stage with scientists and people with PhDs. They were seasoned speaking professionals with a well-honed message. I was an amateur that knew my message but still had doubts about my ability to do it justice. The perfectionist in me was anxious to nail it. Sure, I could bulldoze through the butterflies and hit all my talking points, but will it resonate with the audience? Will I be able to answer their questions? When I go to bed that night, will I sleep or spend hours staring at the ceiling and second-guessing my responses?
As the 2-hour panel discussion began, my nerves gave way and I gave a better-than-terrible performance. The event ended, and groups of people wanting to meet various speakers started forming into lines. One of these lines was noticeably longer. I tried to discern who was at the front of it, wanting to note the speaker’s topic and technique.
It took only a few more seconds to realize that the speaker with the long line was me.
I did my best to hide my surprise. Answers on deck, Aneesa! Keep smiling and don’t screw this up. It went by in a blur. What stands out to this day is that, despite my rookie performance, I had connected with my audience by leading with my heart. The audience related to my authenticity, to my willingness to be vulnerable and share stories (even the less-than-flattering ones).
Now, I feel comfortable in most speaking situations. I’ve learned much and still have much to learn, but I’ve actually found a passion other than manufacturing. It all started as a form of giving back (outreach and advocacy), and after only 3 years, it’s become a side-gig. I would have never thought I’d have come this far, let alone have my own public speaking website.
Failure isn’t final. Perfection should never be the goal, especially since reinventing oneself is almost always a messy and uncomfortable experience. Growth usually doesn’t feel good and has a cost, but the cost of staying comfortable is far higher. If someone like Nicole can find a new purpose after losing such a promising career, then why not risk a little failure to see what more we’re capable of?