Everything you want is on the other side of fear

STEPHANIE McMAHON is the chief brand officer of World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (WWE) and is the organization’s global brand ambassador. She is the primary spokesperson for WWE’s corporate social responsibility initiatives, including the Special Olympics, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, and Be a STAR, WWE’s anti-bullying program. In 2014, Stephanie and her husband, Paul “Triple H” Levesque, established Connor’s Cure, a fund dedicated to fighting pediatric cancer. Stephanie appears regularly on WWE’s flagship programming as a personality. She has been recognized as one of the “Most Powerful Women in Cable” for the past five years by CableFAX magazine. Adweek has included Stephanie in their list of the “Most Powerful Women in Sports” for the past two years. Most recently, Stephanie received the Stuart Scott ENSPIRE Award at the 2017 ESPN Sports Humanitarian of the Year Awards.

What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)?
My Bucky neck pillow. I travel all the time, and I don’t get much rest on the road, so it’s important for me to be able to sleep when I can. The Bucky neck pillow is rectangular in shape and fits perfectly behind my head when sitting on an airplane. I can’t stand the U-shaped pillows because I have a pea-size head (Irish people either have giant heads or tiny heads; I’m of the tiny variety) and they slide up too much. The Bucky pillow stays perfectly in place, giving me all I need for a comfortable flight.

If you could have a gigantic billboard anywhere with anything on it, what would it say and why? Are there any quotes you think of often or live your life by?
“Do something you’re afraid of every day.”—often attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt.

I live my life by this quote, and I’ve heard various incarnations of it over the years, most recently, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” Not long ago, I was at WrestleMania (WWE’s Super Bowl) about to walk out in front of a record-breaking crowd of more than 100,000 people at AT&T Stadium. It was the event my father created, as a part of my husband’s entrance on the 20th anniversary of his career, with my children and nephews sitting ringside. John Cena and The Rock were leaving the ring and the arena went black. I was supposed to ascend to the top of my throne, which seemed suspended in mid-air, and recite the dialogue that would set the stage for Triple H’s villainous entrance. Together, we were known as “The Authority,” and everyone needed to bow down to our omnipotent presence.

Only, in that moment, in the darkness that was enveloping me, I froze. I forgot every word I was supposed to say. I could hear my heart pounding in my ears and my throat squeezed tight. I felt like I was going to implode. Then I thought about that Eleanor Roosevelt quote. If I didn’t go out there, I would regret it for the rest of my life. How many people would ever get an opportunity to do what I was about to do? And there it was, right in front of me. I took a deep breath and let it all in, all the emotion and all the energy of all of those people. I owned that moment. It was the highlight of my career as a performer.

My youngest daughter is seven years old, and just yesterday, she conquered her fear of going off the big swing at a climbing facility near our house. She had been up there before, all ready to go, and backed out at the last moment. But this time, she said she was ready. She psyched herself up listening to “Am I Evil” by Metallica (I’m not kidding, she found the song on her daddy’s playlist and listened to it on replay the entire 20-minute ride) and climbed all the way up to the swing, which was a good 30 feet in the air. She got clipped in, and she moved her tiny body to the end of the platform. Then she had her own moment of doubt and started to back up . . . but something came over her; she hummed a few bars of the song and moved herself forward again. This time the countdown began “3-2-1” and off she went! When it was over she yelled, “I want to do it again, Mommy!” and “I did it! I conquered my fear!” I hope she remembers that feeling forever.

What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?
Tools of Titans by Tim Ferriss.

What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

I chug water bottles; it’s the only way I stay hydrated! Who enjoys sipping water? I’ll sip coffee all day (Starbucks venti Cold Brew with two shots of espresso and two stevia packets, if anyone is interested), but if I feel the least bit thirsty, I’ll grab a bottle of water and chug the entire bottle without stopping.

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?
Most recently, spending time with my grandmother. My grandmother is a remarkable person. She’s a 90-year-old North Carolinian who was a budget analyst in the 1940s, loves to drink her vodka tonics and smoke cigarettes, and has absolutely no filter on what she says. She broke her hip over Christmas and made a full recovery, had discs fused in her neck a few months later, and just found out today that her lung cancer (which she had beaten before) has come back. In spite of all of this, when I went to visit her, she sat with her back straight and had a fire burning in her beautiful blue-green eyes. I’ve been visiting her more since her neck surgery, going to see her after dropping the girls at school instead of doing my morning cardio routine, and I couldn’t be more grateful for this time. She always reinforces what’s most important in life (the people you love), and constantly reminds me not to let anyone walk over me. “You got to stand up for yourself, Steph,” she says. “No one told me how to do it, but I did it anyway, and it’s served me well. And you teach those girls (my daughters) to do the same.”

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
I’m not as religious as I want to be, but before I go to bed, I try to think of three things that made me happy during the day. It’s an evolution of thinking of three things that I’m grateful for before bed. I found that I would feel guilty if I didn’t say certain things I was grateful for, and I wound up saying the same things over and over. Thinking of things that made me happy helps me put aside all the baggage I’ve packed throughout the day, and it helps me focus on what’s really important, like jumping in Lake Winnipesaukee with my three girls or getting a random text from my husband telling me I’m beautiful. A colleague gave me the idea and said she had heard it from Sheryl Sandberg. I know I’m supposed to write these things down (and writing them down is an important exercise), but I have three kids, aged 11, 9, and 7, and I train at midnight, so I do the best I can.

In the last five years, what have you become better at saying no to? What new realizations and/or approaches helped?
I actually had a hard time learning to say no at all. The culture at WWE is a “can do” or “yes” environment. There is no such thing as no. There can be “Yes, we can do that, but here are the challenges if we do . . .” but I really can’t imagine saying, “No, Vince (Vince McMahon, chairman and CEO of WWE, who also happens to be my father), sorry, that’s impossible.”

I did learn, however, that saying no in the right situation can actually be empowering. A couple of years ago, I was pushing myself a little too hard. On top of traveling every week as a performer for our live television shows, I was also traveling in my executive role as chief brand officer. I was finally about to get a few days at home with my girls, when I was informed of a speaking “opportunity” that would be good for the company. Someone on my team was looking out for me, and said, “You know what, Steph, this would be a good opportunity for WWE, but is it really a ‘need to have’ or is it a ‘nice to have’?” I realized it was the latter and actually said no. The result was a couple of very needed days of downtime with my family that actually helped fuel my performance when I returned.

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