What if boldness were an explicit value of the civil service?
Janet Hughes

Boldness. I think about it daily.

A few years ago, having invested in an advanced degree during the worst recession in living memory, I came out the other end to find that no one was hiring. I’d had my heart set on one of Britain’s most loved and trusted retailers. During my last semester, while classmates were partying, I spent entire nights in front of my computer doing unpaid work for my dream employer, to prove what I had to offer.

After graduating, I persevered until an opening came up. I applied. I was interviewed by managers. I was interviewed by the HR director. I was interviewed by the CEO himself. I took psychometric tests. I could feel all the hard work and late nights paying off.

Weeks later, I got a call saying they’d decided to scrap the role completely, but they’d be happy to discuss my application with me. Wrecked, I graciously accepted the offer and was told I’d been a great candidate, but for one thing. I tested exceptionally high on boldness. It was a problem. I should work on that. They’d be reluctant to hire anyone so bold.

Having spent the last couple of years surrounded by some of the smartest people I’d ever met, and the last several months looking for a job at a time when there were none, and the last few weeks being put through the paces of a testing interview process, I felt anything but bold.

That phone call, from a human resources specialist, had a lasting and crippling effect. A temporary crisis of confidence turned into years of caution and self-doubt. I wrapped up my boldness in heavy cloth, put it out of reach in a dark corner, and went to work for companies that didn’t value boldness.

It’s only in the last year, after going out on my own, that I’ve come to realise boldness is indeed a value. Values are those beliefs we hold so deeply that even when they’re tested, and even if they’re nearly suffocated, can’t be completely snuffed out.

It’s taken me years to feel bold again. To regain confidence in myself and my beliefs. To push my ideas out of the little nest where I’d been quietly nurturing them and see if they’ll fly.

Feeling bold doesn’t mean you don’t feel fear. That twinge in your stomach is a measure of how much impact your action could make. When your effort is sincere and pointed in the right direction, you can change things for the better. When you take a thoughtful approach to risk, that’s not arrogance. And when, sometimes, it all works out, you can even inspire others.

At least, that’s my bold hope.

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