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Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Boss

Sometimes I get tired of being inspired. Sometimes I get tired of those gorgeous Instagram-ready posters urging me to “Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Boss”. Don’t get me wrong; I think that surrounding ourselves with reminders of our intentions can be useful and even inspirational.  But that’s not enough, and it’s not just the slogans that leave me dissatisfied. It’s the business books written by privileged white boys telling me that anyone can replicate their success stories.  It’s articles written by privileged women telling me that I can and should step up, lean in, go big, and be loud, without much mention of the gamble involved. It’s the unwritten assumption that stepping out of our comfort zones looks the same for everyone, when I know it doesn’t. 

It’s called a comfort zone for a reason.  It’s familiar, it feels safe and we think we are in control when we are in it.   Everyone’s comfort zone is a different size and shape.  Stepping outside of that place of safety comes with a different degree of risk for everyone.  The difference is in the gamble.  I have a colleague who has multiple Ivy League degrees, is a successful businesswoman, owns two homes and earns over a million dollars a year. I have another colleague who is a single mother, earns fifty thousand dollars a year working for a nonprofit and will probably never own a home.   Reaching outside their comfort zones might be equally scary for both women, but the actions and risks involved are quite different.  

I think we need to talk more about how to support risk-taking by all women, not just those who have a safety net of privilege.  I was talking with a friend the other day about the benefits of being a guest on podcasts.  She agreed that there is great visibility to be had from podcasting and mentioned quietly that she would need to be very careful about choosing a safe podcast host. My friend is a brilliant and accomplished African American woman.  She is driven and confident and takes personal and professional risks. And she has some experience with vulnerability.  When she hears, “get out of your comfort zone, and be a podcast guest”, she thinks about the gamble. She knows the risks associated with lending her voice to a white person’s narrative.  She is cognizant of the risk of being used as a token for ethnic diversity or of having her words be interpreted through a lens of racial bias.  These are risks that we, as white women, don’t have to think about because of the privilege afforded by the color of our skin.  There may be other risks we need to consider, but we don’t have to consider the nuances of persistent racial power dynamics when making routine business decisions.

If we want to promote true diversity in our workplaces, we have to be honest about what it really takes for women from all backgrounds to take risks. In my career, I’ve been in both positions of privilege and positions of vulnerability.  I’ve stepped outside of my comfort zone, sometimes intentionally and sometimes because a pivotal mentor pushed me there. Here are some of the things I have learned about what it takes to get outside our comfort zones when we don’t come from a stable, privileged position:

  1. It takes intention to create expectations for ourselves that are different than the ones we    have been given.
  2. It takes patience to continually push against our comfort zones rather than leaping over barriers.
  3. It takes practice doing small, scary things over and over until they become part of our comfort zones.
  4. It takes mentorship from people who can see our potential and are willing to push us to reach further.
  5. It takes support from people who believe in us and will help us get back up when we fall.
  6. It takes trust in ourselves to set realistic goals and trust in others to create a safety net when one isn’t available.
  7. It takes bravery to act on our vision, which is always, frustratingly, just outside the reach of our comfort zone.
Yali BairComment