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I was honored to attend the Executive Women’s Forum National Conference this year.  It was empowering to be surrounded by over 300 women who have taken on leadership roles in the IT world.  While the women I met were outstanding, the highlight of the conference was the keynote speakers.  One of whom was Mary Burke.  Mary gave a speech on her experiences campaigning as the Democratic candidate for Governor of Wisconsin in the 2014 election.  Her presentation was engaging and held several life lessons, but one in particular stood out to me.

She explained her realization that courage isn’t born out of confidence, it is really born out of a place of fear.  When I first picked up on this message, I thought – wrong!  You have to be confident to have courage.  Isn’t that what bravery stems from?  As she continued to talk however, I better understood her point and realized that my original reaction was the wrong one.

Mary didn’t immediately consider herself a candidate for Governor.  Several people encouraged her to run for the office and she resisted for several reasons.  In the end, they convinced her that she was exactly the option Wisconsin needed to make a true race out of the election.  She then, with uncertainty and fear about what she was getting herself into, put her name in the running.

I found this part of her story interesting for two reasons.  Firstly, I can also relate to people thinking I am a good candidate for a position or job whereas I would say that I’m ill qualified.  It’s not because I lack self-assurance, but rather because I often forget that it is ok to learn in the new role – that there is an expectation I will stretch and grow to meet the new responsibilities.  It’s more typical for me to think that I should know exactly what the job entails as I step through the door for the first time.  This really doesn’t make sense, but it’s a pattern of thinking I need to actively combat.  Mary confirmed for me that I’m not alone in this way of thinking.

Secondly, when she decided that she was going to run for office, she still wasn’t confident about her choice.  She knew she was going to do it, but she was afraid of the personal attacks she and her family would experience, let alone the responsibilities of the role should she win.  This is the part that helped me realize that courage can’t come from confidence.  By its very nature it must be born in a place of fear because if confidence and security exists when the choice is made, you wouldn’t need to call upon courage in the first place.  So where then, does courage come from?

The only answer that I can come up with is faith.  Courage and bravery are born in fear from a seed of faith.

Now that I realize this, I find it moving.  Maybe the faith is in yourself, maybe it is in your leaders or maybe it is in your God.  No matter where you pull your faith from, it’s uplifting to know that it’s within reach for each and every one of us.  It reminds us that everything will work out in the end and helps us through the challenging times.

Looking back on the times that I leaned on courage, I noticed there are four practices I use until my confidence is bolstered.

  1. Keep the commitment – Once the decision is made, stay with it.  Faltering and second guessing will only increase the fear.
  2. Give it 6 months – I am not sure what is magic about this time frame, but with every move and job change (which are the things that produce the most anxiety in me) my fear always dissipates within six months.
  3. Find a mentor or somebody who has “been there and done that” – Ask for help and you will find it.  Look for people to give you guidance, and feel reassured that, at one point in time, they also started from scratch.
  4. Be honest with yourself – Don’t expect perfection from yourself, and know that it is ok to critique yourself (and others) so that you can find ways to grow from the experience.

With these four practices, it is my hope that we can choose to face our fears and overcome them.  In the process, not only will we learn and increase our breadth of experience, we will increase our confidence as well!

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