When I was immersed in my 18-year corporate life, I struggled inwardly to feel successful, valued and to make what I felt was a positive contribution in the world. Back then, I thought I was brave, but I wasn’t. Not by a long shot. I was afraid all the time, and I didn’t muster the courage to speak up and stand up for myself, or for others. I didn’t have the strength to take on that which was wrong and unfair, glaring me right in the face. I was afraid of not being liked if I showed my true feelings. And I was deeply afraid that I never really knew enough to “belong” there in a powerful way (the old impostor syndrome played big tricks with my head).
Now that I’m in my own business and have chosen a direction that feels right to me, I’ve seen that thousands (dare I say millions) of people aren’t brave enough in their lives either, to be who they really are, or make the impact they long to. I’ve worked with so many mid- to high-level professional men and women who have faced all forms of trauma, abuse, challenge, crisis, hardship and suffering in their lives and work, yet haven’t figured out the way to muster the bravery to step beyond that hardship, and honor why they came to this planet at this time.
To me, it has often felt like my female clients and course members are “bloodied, wounded soldiers on the battlefield,” and I’m desperately asking, “Where’s the Red Cross?” When that realization hit me hard this year, I finally took critical action to build my own form of the “Red Cross.” (I launched a new Coach Certification training program to share what I’ve found to be helpful in transforming challenge and hardship into growth.) The truth is that I continue to see over and over again that each and every one of needs to rise up even higher, to speak up more boldly, and stand up courageously for ourselves and for others, and when we do, it changes everything.
Here are 10 critical ways that people can “brave up” today – address and move through their fears, revise their feeling of unworthiness, and overcome their concerns about being rejected, isolated and hated if they reveal and honor who they really are.
The 10 Ways You Can Brave Up Today:
It’s time to stop seeing yourself in the old, habitual, small way. Tell yourself a new story that makes you the hero of your life, not the loser. Understand what and who has formed and influenced you from the past, but know that those influences are from the past and don’t have to continue to hold you down. You can shape your future differently, right now. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps, move beyond your current challenges and hardships, and embrace all that you are to start stepping up towards your highest visions. And don’t let your over-attachment to “authenticity” keep you from becoming a stronger version of yourself.
Tip: Understand the dominant way you take action towards a goal, and what you need to motivate you to move forward, and start leveraging your dominant style more fully. Stop pretending to be someone you’re not. Forget that. Just recognize who you are at your core and honor it.
So many of the women I’ve worked with are afraid to communicate powerfully, authoritatively and confidently. They’ve either been culturally trained not to, or they’ve had damaging experiences in life that taught them they’d be punished if they speak bravely about themselves. We don’t come out of the womb afraid to speak up for ourselves – it’s a learned behavior.
Learn to recognize your many amazing talents and gifts, and share them with confidence.
Yes, some people will be put off when you do this. Too bad. Those who are confident, strong and successful will appreciate your bravery. Stop hiding your talents, and stop worrying that you’re bragging when you shine your light. (Read this for tips to communicate more confidently.)
Another way people hold themselves back and sabotage their own growth is to remain vague and muddy about what they really want. They waffle back and forth between their fantasies and dreams, running to and fro towards this shiny thing and that, but never do anything. It’s time to identify exactly what you want — from yourself, your life, others and your work — ask for it and get it. In fact, demand it, but in an open, compassionate and flexible way that will be appreciated and respected. Don’t take “no” for an answer about what makes your life worth living.
Tip: Figure out the one biggest goal for your life that will make your life worth living, and do something powerful about it today. (Here’s a way to fuel your energy to start something “stupid” today.)
Networking is one thing, but truly connecting, from your spirit and your soul, with inspiring, enlivening people whom you admire and who wish to support and assist you, is a completely different matter (and a life-changer). Learn new ways to connect, network, find inspiring role models, mentors, and supporters who will help you become a braver version of yourself, and make a true difference in your life and work.
Tip: One first, practical step is to start offering heartfelt recommendations on LinkedIn to people you love, respect and admire, and ask for their recommendations as well. Here’s some specific language to help you engage with others, and ask for help.
Stop waiting for the world to serve you. Understand that it’s what you put out in the world — how you serve, support, uplift and assist others and support the greater good of all with your talents that brings true abundance, prosperity, happiness, meaning and purpose. Where and how can you serve others with your amazing gifts and talents?
Tip: Brainstorm three new ways you can leverage your fantastic talents in ways that will be juicy and exciting to you. What causes do you care about? What situations do you want to change? What stand do you want to take in the world? Find a way to do it, even if you’re stuck in a job you hate, or employer you want to leave. Do it today. (For inspiration, here are 9 core behaviors of people who positively impact the world.)
As the tragedies of this week have reinforced, none of us are invulnerable – we all can be hurt, diminished and cast away in this life. But we can’t live in fear. We need to soldier on, living the lives that matter most to us.
To do that, you need to protect yourself, your dreams and your highest visions with fierce commitment and very strong, well-developed boundaries. And you need to protect and support other men and women who are part of your global family. Stop allowing mistreatment and abuse into your life, and take a brave stand against it. Realize that you are a co-contributor of all that is around you. If you hate, hate will spread. If you love, love will spread and grow. Fiercely protect your spirit and your dreams and stand up for others, and for love, forgiveness and compassion in this world. Don’t become a hater just because hating is what we’re seeing a million times a day, every day – in the headlines, in the political arena, and on the global stage.
Tip: Where are your boundaries being violated, either at work or in your personal life? Where do you feel beleaguered, put upon and taken advantage of? That’s the place to start. Have a bold conversation with the one person you need to tell, “Enough!”
Life hurts (sometimes a lot), and can injure us badly. Every one of us has experienced some degree of trauma, pain, suffering, sadness, isolation and self-hatred. What can we do about it? We can learn how to heal ourselves. It’s possible for all of us. But only when we take different steps, with new, expansive mindsets, practices and commitments — and helpers — than we’ve ever experienced before. Right now, for instance, I’m working on my own healing process by taking beloved Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön’s course The Heart of the Matter, and it’s already shifting my healing in a big way.
Tip: Sit with yourself quietly for an hour this weekend, and bring to mind (I know it’s hard) the one thing that pains you the most about your life, and about your past and your present. What hurts you to think about? What takes your breath away because it’s so hard to face? That’s the very thing that needs healing today. Reach out to a therapeutic provider, friend or a mentor who has experience with this type of pain, and ask for help to feel it fully, process it, then heal through it.
Humans are happiest and most fulfilled when they are growing towards their highest potential. But that requires seeking and stretching, every day. We need to get out of the tight box we’ve trapped ourselves in, and learn how to seek – to allow ourselves to long for new experiences, sensations and learnings and “try them on” so we can explore and expand, even amidst what we believe are the tight constraints of our present lives.
Tip: What’s the new direction you’re longing to stretch to, but you feel too scared to move? Understand that you will feel scared – that’s the reality. Get used to it and get comfortable with it. It’s a sign that you’re growing. In fact, the more you grow, the more “scared” is not something you give attention or credence to, when it comes to expanding beyond where you are today. Scared is the feeling that all brave, impactful and hopeful people feel, every day. Take the step and stretch.
I was so very saddened this week after I posted this piece on the Stanford rape case, and hundreds of women privately told me and the interviewee Cheryl Hunter that they agreed with the article, but only a tiny handful of women had the courage to post their opinions publicly. That’s a terribly sad state of affairs. Women so often fail to bravely challenge the status quo. They fail to say “no” publicly to what is intolerable. They fail to do what’s necessary to risk, and say what needs to be said, with power and authority.
Learn how to challenge — in an effective, constructive and life-giving way — what’s feels wrong to you, in your life and work. Challenge and revise what no longer works. And learn how to take on the haters without becoming a hater yourself. Only when we bravely challenge what is wrong, unjust, and hateful in the world, can we transform it.
Tip: What do you need to challenge today? What in your life is wrong, unfair, and unjust that you’ve been an accomplice too because you haven’t said a thing. Challenge it this week.
Finally, we all deeply desire love — to be honored, cherished, respected and nurtured (at both work and home), and to give abundant love in return. But to be loved and share love, we have to love ourselves without fail, with bravery, acceptance and forgiveness. And we need to heal and transform that which is unloving and unrelenting. Learn how to love yourself more bravely by exposing and exploring what’s hidden, secret, and “shameful,” and say “no” to behavior and treatment that tears down love.
**Kathy Caprino, M.A., is an internationally-recognized women’s career success and work-life expert, leadership consultant, speaker, and trainer dedicated to the advancement of women in business. A featured contributor on women’s careers, business and leadership for Forbes, Huffington Post, and LinkedIn, she is also the author of Breakdown, Breakthrough: The Professional Woman’s Guide to Claiming a Life of Passion, Power, and Purpose. A champion for working women, Kathy is a former corporate Vice President, a trained psychotherapist, specialized career and executive coach, and sought-after writer and speaker on women’s issues. She is the Founder and President of Ellia Communications, Inc. and The Amazing Career Project, supporting women to build successful, rewarding careers of significance.
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