"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." - Franklin Roosevelt
I just got back from the BlogHer 2013 Conference in Chicago, where the keynote speaker was Sheryl Sandberg (COO of Facebook). One of the highlights was getting to participate in a Lean In Circle with her (www.leanin.org). An incredible experience. I never dreamed I could feel so comfortably vulnerable with five women I had just met. Truth and dare Vegas-style: what you say in the circle stays in the circle.
There’s a deck of cards in the middle of the table filled with some of the most uncomfortable questions imaginable. The kind of questions we rarely ask ourselves, let alone discuss in front of strangers. They are designed to help us peel back the layers and get in touch with our emotions at warp speed, and that they did. During the circle, my heart was racing - that’s when I realized how much I hold inside without even knowing it - as I asked myself questions like:
What scares you?
Who do you envy and why?
What are you most proud of?
What obstacles have you overcome?
What do you regret?
What would you do if you weren't afraid?
Add to the mix two trump cards for each Lean In participant. You can lay a trump card down at any time and ask another person how they are feeling at that moment. Most of us have trouble accessing our emotions, and it was often surprising how that question affected each of us. Sudden tears, discovery of how you really felt, as opposed to how you thought you should feel. I’m sure every woman knows what I’m talking about.
The power of vulnerability in front of strangers made us strangers no more. Within one hour, our group of six was laughing together, crying together, amazed at someone’s raw honesty or power to face her fears, or admit her vulnerability, which gave all of us permission to look hard into ourselves and know we, too, could turn our fears to courage. We were learning to get comfortable being ourselves. And unapologetic about it too.
I was surprised to learn that even Sheryl Sandberg has plenty of fears, including her fear that the first day at Facebook that she might not be up to the job, and that’s exactly why she had to go after it. Or that she often feels less capable than the guys she is working next to, all evidence to the contrary. How many of us feel the same way, though we rarely talk about it?
As we all know, self-confidence is a major factor in what we can accomplish in life; but, as Sandberg observes in her book, Lean In, there is a confidence gap between women and men. Men in general are confident to speak up, raise their hands, sit at the table and believe they really do have the talent to do a great job (even if they are shooting a little high about their abilities); while women tend to stay quietly away from the table, and underestimate their considerable talents. Women are often afraid to state out loud their own ambitions, but stating them is the first step to creating them.
My take away from the Lean In experience: I came home with a stronger sense of myself and my possibilities. It will take practice, but it’s time to break our code of silence and get comfortable coming into leadership roles in our lives, at whatever level is meaningful for each of us. We all have dreams that deserve to be spoken out loud and lived. It’s time for women to deeply accept just how amazing and talented we are. We owe it to ourselves to find the courage to go after the things that make us afraid, to try something we’re not sure we can do. You may very well find out that you can.
What would you do if you were not afraid? Get inspired by checking out this video.