What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, asks this question in her book Lean In, challenging women and girls to lean in to their careers. Her non-profit website shares women’s answers to this question. It’s an interesting question to consider, and I believe women need to ask it more than men do. Studies show we are far more likely to put others’ needs before our own. It can be debated how much of that pressure comes from society and how much comes from within, but the outcome is hard to debate. Fifty years after the women’s liberation movement began, and nearly 100 years after receiving the right to vote, women still occupy only 21 Fortune 500 CEO spots. There is debate over whether more focus should be put on leaders of organizations and the environments they create, or on the women themselves. Most believe the answer is both, but Sandberg’s question is a good one to spur at least conversation, if not change, among women.
I’ve been asking this question of myself in the weeks since I read the book, and I’ve struggled to answer it. I’m afraid of why that is: I think I’ve spent so long doing what I was supposed to do, that I’m not even sure I know what I’d do if I felt free to choose. Maybe that’s the normal result of being a responsible adult, but maybe not. How many people are doing what they want to do? How many even know what that is? My gut says I’m in the clueless majority, but I don’t even know that. I know most working adults aren’t totally fulfilled at work, although we are wired to need work. It’s a conundrum.
If I had to choose one answer to what I would do if I weren’t afraid, I’d start a company to coach others on their careers, as that’s the most rewarding thing I get to do at work. But I need a steady paycheck and health insurance, so coaching will have to stay part-time, as much as I can get away with in my job. In the meantime, I will challenge my daughters with this question, and ensure they grow up thinking about what they would do if they were not afraid. They are young, their lives not yet set. They, too, already have fears, but it is still early for them. Perhaps this next generation can finally conquer the fears of their mothers and grandmothers, fulfill their dreams, and live up to their full potential.
“Fear is a habit. I am not afraid.” –Aung San Suu Kyi