I used to think of myself as fearless. That was more bravado than reality, however. Responsibility for helping a little one navigate the world around us dramatically changed my perspective on fear. Now it is a constant companion.
For most of my career, I have worked in the project management field. Anticipating what could happen, what could derail a project, is a critical skill that most of us in the field have to develop to be successful.
Either I was born anticipating worst-case scenario, and project management became a natural career for me, or the career choice helped me develop these skills. Either way, it’s second nature for me to consider a situation and think “what’s the worst that can happen?”
Recently, a woman and I were discussing what we struggle with and are looking to develop. She surprised me by saying she struggled with confidence. She was articulate, well thought-out, and appeared fairly confident to me.
Yet she lacked confidence in her knowledge and her ideas. There was no obvious reason for it – her recommendations (so far) have been sound and as thought out as the conversations we had been having.
It frustrates me that this intelligent woman doubts herself and her abilities to the degree that it is keeping her, and her team, from really benefitting from her knowledge. Why?
So I asked her a question. If you share your ideas, what’s the worst that could happen?
Is someone going to call you foolish or stupid? That might hurt a little, but you’ll live. What if they don’t go with your idea? Maybe there’s more to the situation than you know, that you can learn for next time. Again, it might be disappointing, but so what?
I was surprised by the response. The worst that could happen is she could see herself as a failure.
This was the second time in a few days where conversations I had with women revealed that their biggest fears were seeing themselves as failures. Capable, intelligent women, being held back by a fear that – on the outside – seems impossible.
If we naturally shy away from that which we fear – it’s a fight or flight mechanism that is inherent to us as human beings – then their fear of being a failure is holding them back. Back from realizing their true potential. From helping their teams, projects, and customers from benefitting from their talent and knowledge.
And, ultimately, it may result in the very thing they fear. Failure.
Fear of seeing ourselves as a failure is very real. But it’s also in our heads. It is based on perception of what might happen, and therefore within our control.
I would ask anyone who struggles with this fear, who doesn’t speak up, try something new, or offer an idea to consider “what’s the worst that could happen?”
If the answer doesn’t involve risking life and limb, it’s probably time to put yourself out there. It’s time to get your brave on.
How big is your brave?