Bravery Conditioning

Friday, September 20, 2019

By: Maggi Lee

I have always had a fear of writing. English was my second language, so I always felt insecure about my written and verbal communication. Naturally, for my undergraduate studies I chose to major in English Literature to overcome my fear. I imagined, once I am done with my studies I would go on to be a great writer and storyteller.  

I finished my undergraduate degree successfully and felt more secure in the power of my written and verbal communication to delivering my message. I was, however, scared to push the door open to the possibilities that were on the other side by publishing my ideas to the world. The fear of not being a “perfect” writer crippled me to the point where I stopped writing for pleasure and used this amazing utensil only for writing emails and mundane tasks.

I recently listened to a podcast on Harvard Business Review’s HBR Ideacast, Episode 671: “Fixing Tech’s Gender Gap.” The guest speaker was Reshma Saujani. the founder of Girls Who Code, an organization that creates safe and comfortable settings for girls to do just that: code. Girls Who Code is Saujani’s solution to the startling problem of not enough girls in STEM labs in inner-city schools. In the podcast she mentioned that when an opportunity for a promotion or a project is provided to both men and women, women feel the need to be perfectly knowledgeable about the topic or task before we even take on the challenge. Our male counterparts, in contrast, speed past us, take on the challenge and learn as they go.

For many women, the idea of being perfect is confused with the concept of excellence. We need to be excellent in all we do to create a worthwhile career and be successful leaders, and that starts with taking the first step of diving into the project deep and learn to swim as we go, after all, men are doing it and are succeeding, aren’t they?

Perfection is not the same as excellence. Perfection is a mental construct that holds us back rather than springing us forward.

She also mentioned this crucial idea of doing something we suck at -- a concept called bravery conditioning. All women were conditioned from when they were young girls to play it safe, don’t take risks, play nice. Whereas boys are encouraged to leap high, take risks and know it’s okay to fail. We women feel terrible when we try something and fail, so instinctively we decide to play it safe and not take a risk until we are perfectly sure we will succeed. But bravery conditioning -- doing something not to be successful but solely to get out of your comfort zone -- will give us the confidence to take on more challenges. The practice becomes a learning opportunity.

Coming back to me, my fear of publishing my writing because it is never “perfect” has inhibited me from showcasing some of my best ideas. However, as I start this journey of conditioning myself to be brave, I decided to write this blog. And to be quite honest with you, it is very liberating when you tell yourself you’re doing something brave, and not necessarily perfect.

Won’t you join me on this journey of bravery conditioning and try doing something you’ve always wanted to do but were scared to do it for fear you wouldn’t achieve perfection? What’s the one brave thing you have done for yourself today?

Margaret (Maggi) Lee is in transition, seeking a career in public accounting. To view her LinkedIn profile, click here:  

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