“True fearlessness is not the absence of fear but rather the embracing of fear and harnessing it with grace, grit and love.” Vanessa Elle Wilde
I have to admit that I was initially shocked by the following two statistics highlighted the 2017 American Express Open report on the state of women owned businesses in the U.S.
- Close to 90% have zero full-time employees
- Only 3% of female founders ever break the million-dollar mark in annual sales
Given the fact that women are taking the entrepreneurial plunge at twice the rate of men, it surprised me that most of them are not scaling. Are they afraid of the risks associated? Is it out outright fear failure? For many women, the idea of being responsible for both their own livelihood as well as that of others can be daunting. And most of the time it takes employees to be able to scale a business over the million-dollar mark.
I believe the answers to these questions partially stems from how we are raised. Girls are often encouraged to be harmonious, to be nice, and get to along with everyone. This can easily manifest into people pleasing from a very young age. We want everyone to like us. Because of this, and the media’s portrayal of women, girls are prone to an external locus of control. We learn from a very young age that all eyes are on us; to be very careful in all we do and how we do it.
As a result, women tend to strive for perfection in all things. We often take criticism very personally — we internalize it and marinade on it. We learn to not draw too much attention to ourselves, for fear of what others will think of us. Boys, on the other hand, were encouraged to fall, fail, and flounder, for the sake of learning. Now I watch hundreds of aspiring female entrepreneurs inch forward very slowly, waiting to reveal what we’re working on until it’s totally ready… until it’s perfect. And in some cases, they never even launch. We must teach girls that their locus of control is “internal” and encourage them to embrace the mantra, “done is better than perfect”.
I, like most girls, was never taught to think big. I watched my mother (my primary role model) focus her energy on guarding and protecting her family; rightfully so, this was her priority. Most everything was done in order to give me and my siblings better opportunities. Women business owners with children at home often define risks in terms of family finances, personal time, and personal reputation. Up until 20 years ago, women had virtually no high net worth female entrepreneurial role models; this is slowly changing.
And finally, women are taught we need to do it all to have it all. Within my community, I often see women juggling every aspect of their business… reluctant to even delegate basic admin tasks or outsource aspects of their business which are outside their core expertise. They will fiddle, struggle, and procrastinate before they will invest in an outside resource. For many there is a limiting belief or even an outright scarcity mindset, which is obviously compromising their business growth potential.
So how do we step out of the shadow of public opinion and the need for perfection? We embrace fearlessness, which we can develop by practicing making decisions outside of our comfort zone. We can start by finding examples to emulate, owning our achievements/resilience, and confidently pushing ourselves.
- Find inspiring women to emulate. Yes, statistically speaking, women at the very top of their fields are harder to find than men (only three of the 25 wealthiest Americans are women and the percentage of women Fortune 500 CEOs is less than 5%). But they are out there, and finding them is well worth your effort, as it will increase your chances for success
When you do find them, be sure to check yourself about the intimidation factor. Yes, you can get there too! Remember, even Tina Fey, Natalie Portman, Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster, Sigourney Weaver, and more talk about self-doubt and imposter syndrome, so you know you’re not alone.
Make a list of the qualities they have that make them successful that you need most and work on developing them. Just make sure you aren’t being too hard on yourself because there are likely plenty of times you’ve been resilient in the face of great odds and persevered. Your inexperience in these new areas could be your greatest strength.
In her 2015 Harvard Commencement speech, Natalie Portman talks about trusting yourself:
“Sometimes your insecurities and your inexperience may lead you to embrace other people’s expectations, standards, or values, but you can harness that inexperience to carve out your own path.”
2. Recognize your achievements and resilience. Perspective truly is everything, so what’s yours? Celebrating your milestones along the way is one effective method of honoring your accomplishments. Another is to put yourself out there time and again, understanding that fear is a natural response to pursuing what is worthwhile.
It’s not required that you don’t have fear (because we all do around vulnerability), you’re simply urged to do it anyway. You must take risks from a place of purpose so strong that you’re willing to be uncomfortable as you grow. It also means we must face our own biggest critic, ourselves.
In a keynote speech by Brené Brown titled, Why Your Critics Aren’t The Ones Who Count, she says about human nature: “We’re so self-critical, and…. there is an ideal of what you’re supposed to be. And what a lot of us end up doing is we orphan the parts of ourselves that don’t fit with that ideal of who we’re supposed to be.”
Oftentimes embracing those banished parts of ourselves gives us the opportunity to maximize our courage and strength, and a deepen our perspective. Self-inventory can do wonders to remind us what our true strengths are, strengths we may have forgotten about when fear got in the way.
3. Trust Your Talents Enough to Push Yourself. There’s a reason why fewer than 3% of all women entrepreneurs get to $1M in revenue, despite the fact that for past decade, women owned businesses have grown faster than the national average. The common fear of taking calculated risks is often at the heart of it, especially financial risks.
We have to surround ourselves with people who will challenge us to take our businesses to the next level. People who are willing to check us when they hear us talk about the lack of skills or resources. There are significant resources and infinite possibilities in the world. We have to believe we are good enough to not only claim them but to also run after them.
We women often have the advantage of heightened intuition, that quieter voice within that already knows what your next best move is. Act on it fearlessly and watch your business take off.
Most importantly, don’t listen to naysayers. Brené Brown has a great counter to any haters from her keynote speech mentioned above: “If you are going to go in the arena and spend any time in there, whatsoever, especially if you have committed to creating in your life, you’re going to get your a** kicked… [so to critics] if you’re not in the arena (also getting your a** kicked), I’m not interested in your feedback. Period.”
Remember, you have all it takes to take the “less” and turn it into fearless!
The article was originally published on Medium and have been republished with the author’s permission.