By: Maria Pascucci, Founder & President, Campus Calm
I’m so excited to announce that I was named 1st Place “Protégé of the Year” by the Allstate Minority and Women Emerging Entrepreneurs (MWEE) program. The program is a joint venture by the University at Buffalo School of Management’s Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (CEL) and the UB Center for Urban Studies.
The Allstate Foundation, a charitable organization funded by subsidiaries of Allstate Insurance Corporation, sponsored the program and presented the awards at a banquet in the Center for Tomorrow on UB’s North Campus.
To complete the requirements for this program, I created a new formal business plan for Campus Calm and presented it to a panel of judges who are business leaders in the Buffalo, New York community.
I won, but not just in the ways you might imagine.
The MWEE program taught me how to grow a sustainable business and craft a formal business plan to take Campus Calm to the next level. Taking this class forced me to step outside my comfort zone to focus on financials, which also meant focusing on sales, negotiating and marketing, which are scary for me.
Over the past few years, I feel like I’ve been leading this double life in a sense. I was Maria Pascucci, President of Campus Calm, speaker and author with a big fancy website and impressive national presence. Privately, I was struggling to grow my business with no business background. I needed help but I was afraid to ask for it for fear that word would get out that I didn’t know what I was doing. We women often waste precious time and energy trying to avoid feeling like imposters, don’t we!
So this program I enrolled in caused me to really walk my talk and get uncomfortable with being imperfect so I could grow. I was recently in my car returning home from class when I could feel myself becoming overwhelmed. My heart began racing. My stomach began hurting. I began feeling nauseous.
I responded in the following way:
1) I immediately focused inward to observe my thoughts. My inner perfectionist was talking loud and clear. She was telling me that I was a failure and a fraud and that there was no way that I could take my company to the next level of success to reach my goals. She was taunting me for launching a business in the first place. She was talking smack and really giving it to me good.
2) Once I observed my thoughts and determined that they were leading me to a very unhealthy place, I then immediately said “Stop!” out loud.
3) I then began challenging everything my inner perfectionist was saying to me. Out loud in my car, I began saying, “You are not a failure; you are a survivor. Look at everything you have been through and what you’ve done with it. You launched a business, wrote a book, you speak at colleges, collaborate with other business leaders and you help others. And you did all of this with no business background or speaking experience. And you’re the first person in your family to even go to college. So what makes you think that you’re not good enough to grow Campus Calm even further in the next five years? You can do it! You’re strong and brave and I believe in you!”
4) Then I took about five deep breaths and began focusing on my body’s sensations.
5) If I noticed any limiting thoughts creeping back up, I immediately starting saying, “Everything will be ok. You can do this. You can do anything you believe you can do.”
By the time I returned home, my breathing returned to normal. I went to my kitchen and began making myself dinner. Thirty minutes later, my stomach no longer hurt and the nauseous feeling disappeared. I was thinking clearly again, and positively. By the next day, I was back working on growing my business, confident and strong that I could meet new challenges.
A counselor recently explained to me that we have to be in a healthy state to do the work of cognitive restructuring like in the example provided above. It takes a lot of strength to be resilient. That’s why it’s so important that we take time to invest in self-care. When we’re sleep deprived and running on empty, it’s difficult to have the mental strength to challenge our inner critics. That’s why our motto at Campus Calm is “Healthy, Resilient Students Lead.”
*Begin where you are and remember that each time you take steps to ditch your inner perfectionist, you’re moving a step closer toward a loving relationship with yourself, and it will get easier each time you work at it.
As children, we were told to work hard in school, and get A’s to create our happy, successful futures. My generation heard that message loud and clear; many of us concluded, “So if I get a B then that means I’m a failure who will never create success or be happy.”
Many of us overextended and overachieved, some of us to the point of sickness. We boxed ourselves in by only taking classes we knew we could naturally excel in because we didn’t know how to begin to define our self worth if we earned a less-than-perfect grade in the process. Or worse, some of my peers allowed their fear voices to say to them, “If you’re not good enough or smart enough to get straight A’s and compile the perfect success portfolio, then why should you even bother to try?”
When my company encourages young leaders to let go of the pressure to be perfect, we’re not talking about lowering standards. We are talking about keeping perspective. We ask college students to consider how their lives would change for the better if they tried their best in school and could be proud of their accomplishments, while simultaneously knowing the TRUTH that they are more than the measure of their GPA or GRE scores, the title on their business cards or the size of their jeans. How would your life be different if you knew you were good enough?
And here’s the perfect irony that I’ve learned through my PhD in personal experience as a former perfectionist turned businesswoman: when we let go of feeling like we have to be perfect, we actually end up creating authentic success and fulfillment because we’re not burned out, we’re engaged in the classroom, and we free ourselves to take chances, take risks, make mistakes and learn from them.
Awards look great hanging up on the wall, and they can’t validate you or make you feel “good enough.” Only you can gift yourself with that wisdom. The more my work is recognized in the business community, the further I can carry the Campus Calm message and help more young female leaders. That is something worth winning an award for.
At my graduation and awards ceremony, a judge gave me a big hug and told me to “Go! Take your message far.” That’s exactly what I intend to do. While I believe that one person can make a difference, I also know that I can accomplish so much more when I’m not alone. That’s why I want to connect with you and lead together!
So what does winning mean to a former college perfectionist? Winning is the realization that the way to reach success, and truly appreciate it, is to take risks and fail a lot along the way while being compassionate with yourself and holding yourself accountable to your dreams.