Women in Business: Conquering Fear and Gaining Power

Ann Handley’s video about following fear gave me the strength to just “go for it” the next time I feel that hesitation. I recently met her at the @MarketingProfs Happy Hour event in my hometown of Washington, D.C., and found her to be such a delight and a fount of pure inspiration and leadership.  I love Ann’s “so what” attitude, and I highly recommend that you watch the video

I also like this quote by @women2: “Sometimes all you need is 20 seconds of insane courage.  Just 20 secs of embarrassing bravery.” #courage

I reached out to some women I respect through social media and asked them to answer this question and share their journey.

  • Have you ever done something that you didn’t want to do at first because it was outside of your comfort zone, but it turned out to be one of the best experiences you’ve ever had, one that made you feel empowered to be a woman?

Author Stephen Richard writes: “When you’re scared, you stay as you are!”  It seems that all of my contributors realized that conquering their fears led them to bigger and better things.  Does that mean that successful entrepreneurs are able to push past their fears to achieve their goals?  What does fear mean to you?  How do you conquer your fears in both your personal and business life?

When I feel that uncomfortable feeling in my stomach, which comes when I’m stepping out of my comfort zone, I tell myself that I’m growing.  In my humble opinion, that growth is the key to personal and professional success and fulfillment.  I’m a tech entrepreneur, which means I’m in sales.  I’m constantly selling myself, selling a product or selling my time.  When I began this journey, my voice would shake every time I spoke to a prospective client.
I made a commitment to stick with it, which required and still requires stepping out of my comfort zone every day.  As a result, each day is like an adventure since I get to meet and talk to new people.  When women tell me they can’t be in sales because the rejection is too scary, I say, “Everyone is in sales, even if they don’t know it.  You convinced your husband to marry you, right?  You’re in sales.”
I still get that pit in my stomach sometimes.  That uncomfortable feeling never completely goes away.  But when we face our fears and go for it, that fear melts away and we are left with the wonderful feeling that we are pursuing our passion.
I was never one of those women who wanted children.  I was going to have a career, maybe get married, do stuff.  I feared having children, not knowing how I would care for them.  Some issues I had were more selfish – gaining all that baby weight, all the weird changes my body would go through.  Eventually, as I got older, it meant that having a child would mean my husband and I would have to wait until my mid-50s to early 60s before our life would be our own again.
In the end I had not one, but two little boys.  I could say all the cliched things about it being a hard job, but I love it, blah blah blah.  But the fact of the matter is, when I see their faces and how they behave, I see what immortality truly means.  They have absorbed both the best of and the worst of both my husband and I.
I continue to have a career, and am fortunate to have a partner who fully supports me and shoulders the primary childcare responsibilities – and is better suited to it than I.  It was the last decision I ever expected to make, but one I’ve not regretted for a day.
In the summer of 2012 I was invited to join the US Business Mission to Egypt. Comprised of  CEOs of many of the largest corporations in the US, members of the White House Staff, US Department of State staff and the organizing officers of the US Department of Commerce, this group was making the first official visit to Egypt to meet the newly elected President Morsi.  It was to be a landmark visit in the glow of the revolutions of the Arab Spring. And I was invited to speak and represent the tourism sector.  Though very comfortable in Egypt from my yearly visits while working at the Smithsonian, meeting the very conservative President Morsi in the company of the top business leaders of the world was a little daunting.  They were looking to sell airplanes and I was talking about the Valley of the Kings and the value of cultural exchanges.
We were ushered into a large room to meet with President Morsi and looked for our place cards.  Several factors worked to my advantage.  There were only three women in the entire 60 person delegation.  But one of them was the dynamic and highly respected U.S. Ambassador Ann Patterson, (Currently the Undersecretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs).  One other factor to my advantage may have been my name “Jean” which is a man’s name in much of the world and perhaps that confusion caused the officials to place me one seat away from the President.
Never shy, even when my heartbeat is visible, I asked the President some pointed questions on his policies going forward for tourism and we engaged in a lengthy discussion on how to best promote the return of tourists to Egypt.  I had further discussions with his Ministers and we had some plans in place.  Sadly, the next day was September 11, 2012 when the riots in Cairo and the Benghazi raid that killed Ambassador Stevens and others made tourism once again a distant goal.
The first SOBCon in 2007 was a Leap of Faith.  I remember thinking “Who are you to be doing this?” All I could answer was “Who am I not to?”
When Guy Kawasaki asked me if I’d like to spend the weekend on a working aircraft carrier as part of the U.S. Navy blogger/media embark program, I jumped at the chance.  Then I found out that the ship would be running off the coast of southern California, and the only way to get on the ship was via tailhook or “trap” landing, and getting off the ship required a catapult, an experience that was described to me as the most intense roller-coaster multiplied by 100.  I’m scared of roller-coasters, I get seasick, and the idea of flying onto a carrier where the pilot has a split-second to catch a steel cable on the deck or abort the landing made me queasy.
But when would I get such an opportunity to see a giant aircraft carrier at work?  I swallowed my fears and said yes.  I got briefed with the other blogger guests at Coronado Naval Air Station in San Diego, where we put on life vests, ear protectors, helmets and headphones and boarded the Greyhound C-2A transport plane for the USS Abraham Lincoln.  Our seats faced the rear of the plane, and when given the signal we all got into the “brace” position: arms crossed over our chests, hands gripping our vests, chin down, feet braced against the seat in front.  The plane’s tailhook caught the cable and we went from 120 mph to 0 in 3 seconds.  I was still alive!  Then the adventure really began.  I wouldn’t have traded the experience for anything.
Fear is like fuel to me.  Over the years I have learned that pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone leads to very empowering feelings and a shot of self  confidence.
And once you know how that feels, you learn to go there as often as the opportunity presents itself.  While there have been many challenging and scary moments in my life, few quite as daunting as the job of introducing Bill Gates who was the keynote at one of the trade shows I was running at the time.  While a few people suggested others for the introduction, senior technology editors who thought they’d be better suited for the job, I stuck to the responsibility in the knowledge that it would be important to prove that yes, an immigrant, 29 YO woman can do as good if not better job than anyone else.
I prepared that 6 minute introduction for months.  What to say about this legendary personality at the height of Microsoft’s leadership position in 5 minutes?  Needless to say I had trouble sleeping for days and days!
On that morning with thousands of people in attendance.   He and I stood backstage waiting for the music to end.  He was so calm and quiet and I was so nervous I could barely stand.  And yet not even three seconds after I walked on the stage I felt the fear turn into energy.  And once he walked on and shook my hand, I knew I had learned a life long skill:  Fear and energy are very closely related and you have to power to turn fear into a powerful force for your own voice.
I had given hundreds of keynote speeches.  But 3,000 leaders waited expectantly to be engaged and impressed.  Nine huge projection screens magnified every detail of my facial expressions and body language.  I was genuinely scared.  I reminded myself that far outside the comfort zone is where women get the rare chance to perform “in the zone.”  So before speaking to the audience I addressed those mental voices of negative self-sabotage and withering fear inside my head – what I call my “Evil Twin Within.”
I told them boldly, “I worked hard to get here and this opportunity is mine to own, not yours!  I stand strong in my power!  You cannot intimidate me and will not steal this moment!”  The frightening voices in my head subsided.  I heard my own voice booming through the microphone.  Then came roaring applause.  Women later told me I was one of the top presenters of the event.
Why was my presentation a grand success?  Everyone in attendance – including me – had just experienced self-confidence in action, rising up to defeat fear.  That’s a contagiously empowering and inspiring sensation, because when women conquer our fears we can conquer the world!
Less than a year ago I was given the opportunity to join a new start-up.  I’d be leaving a good job at an established company and there were many unknowns, but I highly regarded the founder – so I decided to take the leap.  Since I stepped outside of my comfort zone and accepted the offer, I’ve experienced job fulfillment and excitement like I’ve never known.
The start-up – SocialRadar – got funding, grew in size and recently launched a product.  Along the way I was promoted and had the chance to meet amazing influencers in my own city and across the country.
My new role has opened up other opportunities, including speaking on national TV as a tech commentator.  In another case of overcoming fear, my first appearance on Fox Business News led to 7 more in the past 10 weeks.  I can’t say I’m over the nerves that come with the TV time – but I can say that I feel empowered, and I am honored to represent women in technology.  I find myself already looking forward to that next terrifying leap and the great things it could lead to.
Loading Facebook Comments ...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *