One of my favorite quotes is, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”
As an entrepreneur and mom of four, I can hardly remember a day that I didn’t reflect on this statement. Hiring my first employee, signing our first office lease, teaching my boys how to drive. Throughout our lives, we encounter countless situations that make us feel unprepared, insecure, even scared. How do we confront these emotions? How do we work through them to discover what’s on the other side? How do we not retreat to what we’ve always known? It takes courage.
My panelists were Shelley Hickman, an entrepreneur who owns her own insurance agency; Pat Badger, an advisor for the arts and equity at the Prairie School; Autumn Latimore, director of customer communications for Pfizer Hospital; and Jessica Omelian, founder and CEO of collaborative workspace Atmosphere. These women represent a diversity of age, race, orientation and experience and the insights they shared throughout the discussion reflected this.
Our discussion ran the gamut from exploring why talking about courage is important for women today to the things we do to trip ourselves up, how corporate environments would benefit from more courage and the greatest risks to NOT living courageously.
Pat Badger grew-up during the ’60s and ’70s, times that saw more women entering the workforce, graduating from college, becoming the primary earners in their families. Fast forward to today, she says that despite these advancements and more we still struggle with implicit bias that she describes as “gender soup”.
“Women continue to discount themselves and defer to men in business, in conversations, in relationships,” Badger said. The role of women isn’t clear in society and, unfortunately, from a young age, girls get mixed messages that cause them to look to others for answers and validation instead of trusting themselves.
Everything is figure-out-able
The good news, according to young entrepreneur Jessica Omelian, is that everything is “figure-out-able”. I love this phrase! Think about the challenges you’ve encountered that you had to figure a way through.
Jessica grew up in a conservative family that she describes as “risk adverse”. She caught them off guard when she announced she wanted to start a business. “They had emphasized having a plan, having a 401k,” she says. “I studied sign language in college so I didn’t exactly have the background to start a business!” But Jessica overcame the fear of forging a new path by finding the courage to figure it out. “I knew people who had done this before, so I reached out to them, asked them questions, and I just got started,” she said.
Finding courage may mean finding a new you
Becoming courageous means that you can change. The panel agreed this is intimidating because of the way society still perceives and refers to strong women who live with conviction. Jessica shared her worries about what other people might think of her when she made the switch to start a business. So, what did people actually say about her? “Nothing! I actually found people were extremely supportive,” she shared.
Autumn discovered more clarity and strength by making decisions that are true to her. “Being women of color, we often have our own overlay of being a woman and being something else. We’re stratified to have one voice, one perspective, but we are multi-layered,” she said. “What do I lead with? Am I black first? A woman first? I’m all of those things. You can have the courage to be all of those things and not compromise one aspect of who you are to make someone else feel comfortable.”
You can live authentically AND become courageous. Don’t worry about what other people think.
Work environments need to change
Shelley and Autumn spent most of their careers at large companies, which they found minimized individuality to maintain stability. All too often, this meant not questioning decisions, staying focused on shareholder value, even giving up personal and professional growth. Keeping and growing the talented employees of tomorrow may mean Corporate America should “connect to purpose beyond profit and stock price,” said Shelley. “Companies need to allow employees to feel ownership of the work they’re doing. Force the bell curve in performance management and treat people as individuals.”
The desire for connection to purpose and ownership led Shelley to start her own insurance company. She hasn’t looked back. To her, the risk of not finding the courage to change, is, “… not living YOUR life. When I was working in manufacturing, I didn’t talk about my personal life. Now that I have my own business, I’m involved in the LGBQ Center of Southeast Wisconsin and I’m able to be myself. I’m stronger and happier because of this.”
When I think about my journey to becoming courageous, I’m sure I’ll always reflect on my favorite quote – “Do one thing every day that scares you.” But I’ll also find inspiration in a poem Pat Badger read out loud during the panel. If you feel courageous enough, read this out loud and say your name at the end. We did this together during the panel and I think you will find it empowering!
Woman Courage Claimed by Pat Badger
My name is my name.
My name is the woman song I sing.
My name is the girl inside me
Waiting to dance, to draw, to sing, to act, to write, to read, to run, to sit, to imagine, to be.
My girl has always been there.
Is your girl there, too?
When will we introduce ourselves to one another?
How long will we wait?
Do you have the courage to become,
Not the ideal woman you imagine,
But the real woman you are?
My name, your name.
Out loud. Spoken.
Said in this moment
Throughout our lives, we encounter countless situations that make us feel unprepared, insecure, even scared. How do we confront these emotions? It takes courage.