December 16, 2015
I have the good fortune in my role as a field leader for a global financial services company and as a speaker and advisor on the bottom-line importance of women in workplace to coach early- and mid-career women. Recently, during a panel discussion, a young woman asked: “Tell us, please. How did you do it? How did you face your fears? I would like to be fearless, but I’m just not.” This was a big question. As women, we all knew she was really asking: How do I find my voice; how do I stand equally with men; and how do I consistently find the confidence to share ideas and comments and not undercut my own value?
I said: “You realize just now you were fearless. That’s how you do it; you just do it. But it takes conviction and practice. You have to make being fearless part of your everyday routine. You have to be mindfully fearless. Just ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that could happen if I do this?”
I learned to face fears as a young woman. I grew up riding horses, competing equally against men at the highest levels. This taught me: (1) the importance of persistence and skill building; (2) to develop a trusting relationship with the horse, which meant pushing my limits and learning also to trust myself because if I didn’t trust myself my 1200-pound horse was not going follow my lead; and (3) to constantly assess the situation and adjust and readjust to the moment without pause.
These skills helped me immensely early in my career when there were some serious institutional hurdles for women in the areas of acceptance and career development. The truth is I still rely on them as a matter of course.
If you’ve participated in sports, then you’ll have experienced some version of the above. Your experiences and skills are transferable to the workplace and can support the development of your career…and learning to be fearless. If the discipline of competitive sports is not part of your background, fear not. You can, like all of us, with practice, develop the ability to respond fearlessly in the moment and put this ability to good, practical use.
What I suggested to the fearless questioner –and now to you more formally below– is to make the commitment to Face One Fear, Each Day, Every Day. Do it even when you’d rather not! Make this a routine.
Practice what I call being mindfully fearless, and day by day and opportunity by opportunity you will build the skills and confidence to stand up, to speak up, and to be seen. And, more specifically, you will hone your fearlessness skills to expand your network; find mentors; develop relationships; let others know your goals and aspirations; and, perhaps most importantly, ask for what you want, whether it be a stretch assignment, a specific job role, a salary increase, or flexing your schedule.
Start Being Mindfully Fearless, Today!
The objective is to face up to at least one fear or fear-inducing situation a day — no matter how large or small, or seemingly insignificant. The goal is to welcome being mindfully fearless into your life and to let the practice transform you. Below is a snapshot of the process for becoming mindfully fearless.
Reflect: Look honestly at yourself. Reflect upon these questions: When am I most uncertain of myself? When and where am I most likely not to share my ideas? When was the last time I wished I had acted, but didn’t? What are my fears, both large and small? What do I wish people could see about me that I’m not showing? Make a list of the frustrations and fears that you have and want to change. Add new ones to the list as they arise; remove those that you’ve addressed.
Respond: With better awareness of your fears, frustrations, and hesitancies, identify and be attuned to opportunities to be mindfully fearless. Use these opportunities (at work or otherwise) to act in ways that are different than your current fashion of responding to this situation. Trust yourself. For example, if you’re hesitant to speak in a meeting, make it a point to say something you otherwise would not have said. Remember the questioner I introduced above: asking the question itself was an act of fearlessness.
Record: Keep a daily log of how, where, and when you were mindfully fearless. Include notes: How you felt. How your response was received. What was the outcome? How this was different than not responding or not facing your fear? What did you learn from the experience? You’ll be surprised how quickly this list grows and how diverse the settings are in which you no longer allow your fears to constrain or limit you.
Rejoice: Give yourself credit for having the courage and commitment to change and be more of who you’d like to be in the workplace and in the rest of your life. As women, we’re often toughest on ourselves – we should give ourselves credit for the hard work we do to be genuine and to follow our passions. It’s important that you recognize and rejoice in your successes and your commitment to being mindfully fearless. (I keep a photo in my office of me on my favorite horse jumping a huge cross-country hurdle as a constant reminder to be vigilant. A colleague puts colored dots on her office window to celebrate her mindfully fearless “wins.”)
Reward: As being mindfully fearless becomes familiar and routine, you’ll see in both subtle and obvious ways how your life and career begin to move in ways that are self-guided and rewarding…and you’ll find support from new champions. That said, beyond rejoicing; make it a point to reward yourself for your commitment to change, for your courage to consistently and evermore transparently confront your fears and doubts. You can do this in a way that best fits your style. Do it quarterly or after a significant win. Just do it. Whatever reward you choose, make it something tangible and something you savor.
Stand and commit to being mindfully fearless. All will benefit from your brilliance!
Lisa Cregan is Managing Director, Mid-Atlantic Regional Director, Morgan Stanley Wealth Management. She has more than 30 years of financial services field experience and has been a champion of and trendsetter for women since she entered the industry. Lisa holds a BA and MBA from Georgetown, sits on the board of The Women’s Sports Foundation, and brings her practical and inspiration insights on women and change to groups nationwide.