Navigating Anxiety on the Road to Success

Kara Perez is the founder of Bravely, a community that provides tools to help people bridge the gap between their financial dreams and their realities. Janice Omadeke is the CEO and founder of The Mentor Method, a Texas-based social enterprise that matches companies’ diverse talent with change-making mentors within their organizations. 

Kara Perez discovered her love of finance by way of her quarter-life crisis. Broke, underemployed, and saddled with a mountain of student loan debt, she realized her lack of financial education was crippling her success. Perez stymied her anxiety by grabbing her financial situation by the horns and now helps educate Texans to do the same.

Perez finds inspiration in her Austin-based colleague, Janice Omadeke, who holds a certification in entrepreneurship from MIT, is completing a graduate degree in strategic management at Harvard, and was a top 10 finalist in Rent the Runway Foundation’s Project Entrepreneur. But most admirably, Omadeke successfully raised funds for her own startup, often feeling like an outsider as the only woman and person of color in the room. 

Perez and Omadeke recently spoke about their stories and strategies around tackling anxiety in the current climate, in both their personal and professional lives, using optimism as a force for good—especially when they’ve tried to achieve big goals. This conversation explores both the anxiety of stepping into a role you want to claim and the joy of seeing it succeed.

Kara Perez:  Black women get about 0.02% of venture capital funding, and Project Diane reported that Black women only raise about $36,000, on average. How have you stayed optimistic in the face of those sorts of statistics? 

Janice Omadeke: I remember my value, and that being a Black woman is a superpower. Being a woman is a superpower. We’re resilient, we’re strong, and we’re able to do a lot with significantly less, as is evidenced by those stats. It’s actually a value add for an investor to have me in their portfolio, instead of the other way around. 

I’m also naturally optimistic, and at the end of the day, if it’s not the right investor nor the right alignment, other opportunities will come. You can’t take it personally.  

KP: I think I’m naturally optimistic, too. I’ve always believed in myself, and I think people can make magic happen. But sometimes, just reading the statistics, on business, on the Coronavirus … it’s so easy to feel overwhelmed. Sometimes, I just let myself be overwhelmed. Do you ever experience anything like that?

When I’m feeling anxious, I focus on the main issue in that moment. I don’t allow myself to think the world is ending.

JO: Definitely. I’ve had days where I know that nothing will get done. I just need a moment, and that’s fine. When my mom passed away in 2018, I had a few days where I just needed to be by myself and not have to put on a brave face. But I know that’s part of the process—you can only run away from things for so long. Going through that tunnel of feelings actually helped me have more breakthroughs than if I had tried to push them down.

KP: So, facing the emotions was actually beneficial?

JO: Absolutely. 

KP: We’ve both started businesses on our own. I started mine with $3,300 I saved from a catering side hustle and selling an old blog. You started yours while you were still working a high-paying job, but the start-up costs came out of your bank account. A huge part of my first two years in business was financial anxiety for myself: how was I going to pay my bills? How did my business support me, and how did I support my business? That was the big question. Have you ever dealt with financial anxiety on a personal level? 

JO: I do have to call out my privilege, because I started The Mentor Method when I was a manager at PWC. So being able to invest my savings into the business worked because there was enough padding there. 

But growing up, we didn’t have a lot of money at all, so I understand feeling anxious about finances. Even after graduating and having my first couple entry-level jobs, in 2009 when the economy was garbage, it was tough. I felt financial anxiety, having to decide, “Am I going to pay for a month of parking, or am I going to pay my student loans?”

KP: What about on a business level? How do you handle that?

JO: Absolutely, but look … if Jeff Bezos can feel that anxiety, it’s unrealistic to think that a four-year-old startup wouldn’t have that same anxiety, too. I think every business owner feels that pressure to continue growing, to continue making their business the best it can be. 

When I’m feeling anxious, I focus on the main issue in that moment. I don’t allow myself to think the world is ending—I try to not get hyperbolic about it. I focus on the single point of impact that’s causing pain at that moment and deal with it. And then think about the areas I can control in that situation and contribute to them. 

KP: COVID-19 is something we have to talk about. It’s a weight on all of us that none of us are accustomed to carrying. 

JO: Absolutely. Whether it’s on social media, or conversations with friends about how they’re losing work, or even children having a hard time getting free lunch … the impact of this, it’s clear we weren’t prepared for it. So thinking about how long we’ll be feeling these impacts, and what else is around the corner that we don’t know about yet … I definitely understand that feeling of overwhelmingness. 

KP: What’s something that your anxiety, or stress actually ended up HELPING you with? For me, I was so stressed out about setting my business up to profit right away, so that I could support myself, that I just went bananas with outreach and marketing. And I’m still in large part using the same plan, in year four. I’m like, oh I did all that work, setting up that email marketing, that social media calendar, meeting as many people as I could, all because of stress. But it ended up helping me! Has that ever happened to you?

JO: Anxiety can be detrimental, but it can also be a gift, depending on where and how it manifests. The human resources industry is very trend-based. So, not knowing the next trend; when it will hit, how big it will be, and what it will do for the areas my business relies upon can give me anxiety. 

Especially in the age of this global pandemic—are people focusing on retaining employees right now? Because that’s what The Mentor Method helps with. What does this do to our current users and our adoption rate for future users? The current climate definitely gives me anxiety.

But, it forces you to expand your horizons, or build something new to adjust. Thinking about it this way has helped us create new offerings for clients—we’ve come up with new tools companies can use during these times and still focus on retention. I’ve used it to make sure we stay relevant and address current needs, instead of waiting for things to die down.

Photo: Kara Perez (left), Janice Omadeke (right)

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