Why Not “Live Fearless”?

Unless the answer is immediate death or excruciating pain, that is.

Image courtesy of Blue Cross/Blue Shield

Every morning, I drive past a billboard which features a little boy dressed as a superhero. I love that boy! He is defiant, proud, and straightforward, with a look that says, “Don’t mess with me!” From time to time during the day, whenever I feel particularly unsure of myself, I think about his message to “Live Fearless” and take heart.

What exactly does it mean to “live fearless”? In my mind, “fearless” isn’t the same as “confident.” Confidence implies self-assurance, which often comes with experience. But to be fearless means to be unafraid — unafraid to explore, to make mistakes, to be wrong, to say “I don’t know.” To be fearless, ask yourself the question, “What’s the worst that could happen?” If the answer isn’t immediate death or excruciating pain, then why not?

In my short corporate life, I saw enough fearfulness to fill a village. Managers afraid to investigate change because “they’ve always done it this way.” Employees afraid for their jobs if they admitted they did not know how to do something — as if that were a crime worthy of beheading. Supervisors exerting power by throwing a tantrum when something didn’t go their way. I went to work every day afraid that I’d make a mistake or piss someone off. How can anyone thrive in an environment like that?

Anna Leonowens, the strong-willed governess in “The King and I,” advises her young son when he expresses his fear of the King’s scowling counselor: “Make believe you’re brave, and the trick will take you far. You may be as brave as you make believe you are.” This is one way I encourage myself to be fearless, believe it or not, despite the fact that Anna is singing to a small boy. And why not? You can’t manufacture fearlessness out of nothing — you have to start someplace. The more you can convince yourself to be brave, the stronger you become.

Liz Ryan, CEO of “The Human Workplace,” would agree. If she has any one piece of advice, it’s to find — and keep — what she calls “your mojo” — your self-esteem, your life force. Liz says,

“We’ve built a model for work that runs on fear — fear that the boss won’t like your results, fear of a political slight or challenge, and fear of stepping outside the box to speak with your own voice…. The best thing you can do for yourself, your health, your credibility and your employer is to find your own voice and speak up.

When I was a little girl, my mother always told me to speak with the courage of my convictions. It’s hard to know what your convictions are when you are small because you haven’t lived long enough to have developed many. The irony here is that, while you may not have had the wisdom of conviction, you also didn’t know enough to be afraid. Knowledge, like age, can be a terrible double-edged sword, bringing conviction but taking away optimism.

The “Live Fearless” ad reminds me every day to buck up! — to be a little braver; to try to regain some of my childhood buoyancy and optimism. By doing so, I chip away at my own insecurities while modeling strength. It doesn’t matter that I’m quivering in my shoes. If I am living fearless, you won’t be able to tell.

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