The Bravery Gap

Working with teenage girls for the last 20 years of my career in coaching has given me a front line view of the battles teens face during this most confusing time. From eating disorders to anxiety, the level of insecurity among teenage girls is rising rapidly, fueled even more so by social media pressures.

Teenage girls practice bravery by power posing and using eyes to convey intention.

Throughout the years, I’ve witnessed a trend of increasing insecurity among grown women, too — in former players finding their way into their twenties and thirties, within my peer group around breaking the mid-life barrier and even in older women adjusting to later-life realities.

By insecurity, I mean fear. By fear, I mean fear of failure, And, by fear of failure, I mean lack of bravery. And by lack of bravery, I mean corrupted core confidence.

I became so curious about my suspected link between bravery and confidence that I started a company seeking to develop programming to practice bravery. When defining and deconstructing bravery, I kept running into fear. Turns out, this is the ticket to increasing your sense of bravery.

Fear is Here
The definition we use for bravery is persistence and perseverance despite having fear. So much of the rhetoric around accomplishing greater confidence is about minimizing or ignoring fear with transactional, surface-level suggestions like “fake it ’til you make it.”

The fact is that fear is a real thing and our sense of it is personal and powerful. So seeking to minimize that fear or shrink it neither acknowledges it’s very real power nor does it foster coping techniques that sufficiently answer the problem. Fear is a fact and ignoring that fact arrests our emotional and mental development to find adequate ways to deal with it.

Bravery, in my opinion, is the neutralizer to fear. Furthermore, I would argue that to take action despite perceived fear requires more bravery relative to the existing amount of fear.

Increases in Self-Reported Bravery
When piloting our programming and gathering data based on a 2 hour program, we started to see statistically significant increases in self-reported bravery in teenage girls. So, we continued to collect data, which has led to compelling proof of method.

Initial self-reported bravery was 3.11 out of 5 and final bravery was 3.74 out of 5, showing an overall increase of .63.
- 93% of girls named someone they know personally as their Bravery Role Model and 72% of those they named were female.

Initial self-reported bravery was 3.57 out of 5 and final bravery was 4.34 out of 5, showing an overall increase of .77.
- 34% of boys named a public figure as their Bravery Role Model and 78% of them named a male or group.

Brave Boys
We cannot determine whether or not we are increasing actual bravery, but we do know that something is changing in just 2 hours of work with these teenagers in their self-reported bravery. Is the boys’ bravery higher because they are actually more brave? Girls lower because they are less brave? Are boys socialized to be more brave? Girls socialized to be less brave? Do boys just self-report higher levels of bravery? Girls lower levels? Answering any of these questions is reason enough for me to continue to develop programming to help girls be more brave.

And, the fact that the girls are looking within their communities to brave female role models while boys are looking up and out to male role models means we must also work to make #morebrave the women who model bravery for the girls in their communities.

Big Issues Start Early
We know that women make 20 cents less for every dollar earned by a man. We know that women go for jobs only when they meet all or most of the criteria for the role versus men who apply when they meet only some.

When I look at our sampling of work with teenagers, it gets me wondering if the gender wage gap or the leadership ambition gap or more broadly, the confidence gap between men and women starts earlier than we can imagine, ingrained not only in the kids’ perception of themselves but in the action they are willing to take in their relationships and in their lives.

That possibility has us working feverishly to come up with interventions that will help teens practice bravery as armor and sword to fear. Additionally, our charge is to develop teachable and practice-able skills, useful tools and bravery exercises to help girls and women develop a new habit loop with brave action as the behavior.

As the facilitator, I saw fear in the boys and the girls and they describe it in the same ways. Already, however, at this early age, the girls seem to be paralyzed by their fear(s) and the boys are motivated to action by theirs.

This is what I want to change for girls.