Commit to Boldness

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Fear is Temporary. Regret is Forever – Dierdre Van Nest

When is the last time you didn’t move on one of your game-changing ideas? Hopefully the answer is never. But my gut along with some stats found on the Internet make me believe that you regret not being bold at least once in the past year.

Daniel Gulati, in a 2012 blog post for Harvard Business Review,  listed the top five career regrets. Lack of boldness was the reason for two of them. In his unscientific survey of 30 professionals aged 28 to 58, third on the list was lacking the confidence to start their own business. Number five was letting a “now or never” moment pass them by because they didn’t act on a career hunch.

Of course it’s easy to look back at those moments and analyze what might have been. What’s more challenging, yet so much more impactful, is manifesting boldness when the opportunity presents itself.


The Underbelly of Bold

Fear often precedes boldness. It weakens your knees, sucks dry your confidence and depletes your energy. Despite its cortisol-inducing effect, it’s only an emotion and it cannot be the force in charge of whether you move forward with your bold ideas.

I saw this quote on Twitter recently and it’s a good one:

Don’t let fear make the decision for you.

Then again… Boldness is important when you want to break out of a funk, change your life or make a difference in this world. For these kind of big moves, many times fear isn’t entirely ungrounded. Regret can work the other way too.

Commitment to boldness doesn’t mean “go bold or go home.” It’s about being open to the possibility of making a bold step, but not stepping into quicksand. If you want to move in the direction of becoming more bold, making a bad decision doesn’t inspire self trust.


Nurturing Your Boldness…

On the other hand, if you build a good track record of being bold, you’ll have the confidence to fight unfounded fears. As you might have guessed, since I haven’t mentioned it yet, improv has helped me grow bolder.

In general, it’s a confidence-instilling avocation, but back when I was doing mostly short form improv, we specifically practiced boldness for this game called, Sounds Like a Song. During a two-person scene, a director would yell out ‘sounds like a song’ when he heard a line he liked and then the improviser has to start and keep singing until the director says, ‘back to scene.’

At first I hated this game because I’m not a good singer. More specifically, I have a nice voice; I just can’t keep a tune. What I learned is: Don’t worry what I sound like, just sing out like I’m Ethel Merman. They call it “Jack Black it up” and surprisingly it works. I’ll never perform on Broadway, but when I carry myself with the confidence of a rock star, no one cares if I miss a note or two. And the funny thing is I missed fewer notes when I felt confident.

On stage is the one place where I feel safe to exercise all that’s outrageous within me. So when a moment seems ripe for singing and I break out in song, I’m building that muscle.

Another strategy for nourishing your boldness is to look for that characteristic in people close to you. It’s one thing to marvel at the likes of Elon Musk and his audacious moves. But when you see it in someone you know well, you can imagine it more clearly for yourself.

Although she’s no longer alive, my grandma Fifi still inspires me. (Her real name was Phoebe. As a toddler I transformed it, making her Fifi forever to me.) I loved her for her wisdom, how grounded she was and her joyous approach to life. Although she never minced her words, dozens of friends adored her. She was always a leader, who didn’t let social norms define her. Her acts of boldness include:

  • Marching for Women’s Suffrage at age 11
  • Wearing pants before it was socially acceptable for women
  • Secretly eloping with my grandfather, then having a formal wedding months later
  • Working outside the home as a bookkeeper and selling slipcovers, not for the money but because she wanted to
  • Handling the family finances
  • Buying and wearing a tee shirt that featured a black and white photo of a woman’s naked breasts

She left that tee shirt to me. As an example of boldness, I thought I might include a photograph of me wearing it along with this post. But I’ve been battling fear for the past few days. Here’s a sampling of my inner dialogue:

Emerging Emboldened Me (EEM): Isn’t this a cool idea? 

Fear Influenced Me (FIM): Sure. If you don’t care what anybody thinks of you.

EEM: They’re not my breasts. It’s just a photo.

FIM: It’s the Internet. Suppose it goes viral.

EEM: That would be great. Then maybe more than 30 people will read my blog.

FIM: Suppose someone who wants to hire you sees the picture? What about colleagues? Past customers? People whose respect you want?

EEM: That could be bad.

FIM: What if your son sees it?

EEM: That would be worse.

FIM: Is this picture worth risking your reputation?

EEM: I guess there are better ways I could make my point.

FIM: You betcha. (My FIM sounds a bit like Sarah Palin.)

EEM: But then I’m not being bold. (I’m more argumentative when the Sarah vernacular comes into play.)


Honoring Your Fear

This morning I decided to honor my fear. FIM made some good points. If there were no other way to convey boldness, then I would fight her.

Wearing that tee shirt would sexualize me in an arena where I want to be known for my smarts. It might even look like I’m sexualizing myself. And that would be even worse.

By listening to my fear, I figured out:

  • What could go wrong
  • The risk wasn’t worth the reward
  • There are other less risky ways to accomplish the same end
  • I don’t want to lose any momentum I’ve built so far


Hedging Your Bold

So here’s the picture.

Mitigating my bold.

Mitigating my bold.

In discussing his customers wanting his company to create bold and outlandish ads, president of Maverick Marketing Scott Place said, “In their quest to stand out in an increasingly ad-cluttered world, many marketers forget that not all attention is created equal.”

While you may think I let fear win, I respectfully disagree. There’s a definite boldness to using counterexamples.


And So…

Your ability to be bold (or to mitigate it when appropriate) comes down to trust in yourself. Most of the time, you’ll know what to do. And on the off chance you make a mistake, well then read my post from last week!

What D’ya Think?

Leave a comment. Did I wuss out or wake up?


One thought on “Commit to Boldness

  1. Interesting thoughts. Just like negative feedback has merit, listening consciously to my fears is nothing more than another perspective. And if I am to be noble, I should give perspective its due!

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