I had my beloved book club earlier this week, and the selected book was Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. Usually at our book clubs there are at least a few girls that haven’t finished the book (or sometimes even started), so I was pleasantly surprised to find out that every single one of us had read it completely.
While I definitely didn’t agree with all of Sheryl’s views (to be honest, there was quite a bit that rubbed me the wrong way), I was still left with some major takeaways about women in the workforce. There are so many invisible systems in place that make it easier for men to succeed than women, and while we have made a lot of progress, sexism is alive and well. This wasn’t a surprise to me as most of my professional experiences have taken place in very male-dominated environments, but seeing the facts laid out so clearly is always jarring.
But perhaps more importantly, a huge takeaway for me was that we (as in women) frequently hold ourselves back. We often don’t go after our dream jobs out of fear. Fear that we’re not ready. Fear that we won’t be able to spend time with our families. Fear of judgement. And in comparison to women, men don’t really have these fears. They go for things regardless if they’re qualified or not, while women often don’t. So as women we have to stop holding ourselves back. To not let fear stop us from reaching for our goals or achieving our dreams.
One of the recurring themes of the book was the question “what would you do if you weren’t afraid,” so my friend Shannon asked all of us what it was that we would do if we weren’t afraid.
What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
And here’s the thing… as ridiculous as it might sound, at first, some of us were afraid of even answering that question. Publicly declaring what our real hopes and dreams were, out loud, to a group of people (even when the group was full of awesome supportive girlfriends), well, it was kind of scary.
But as we talked about this, the question started to morph from “what would you do if you weren’t afraid” to “what would you do if money weren’t an issue,” because for a lot of us, it’s our fear of not having the money we need to support ourselves that is holding us back. Once the question was asked like that, the conversation seemed to flow easier.
Almost everyone said that they would quit their job and pursue things that they were truly passionate about, things like design, cooking, writing, art. We would travel more. Start our own businesses. Find an organization that we are passionate about and work with it. You know, all those things that “everyone wants to do” and that only a few are actually able to make a successful living at.
But over the past few days I’ve been thinking, is it really money that is holding me back? Because if I’m being honest with myself, really honest, I’m not necessarily sure it is. Yes, money does pose a huge obstacle, and that fear is a very real and valid fear for sure, but what I’m afraid of more than that is the fear of failure. Of trying something I think I’m going to love, and then failing at it. Or, and I’m not sure which is worse, trying something that I’m so sure I’m going to love and then realizing… I just don’t. Where would I be then?
While I can’t speak for others, I know that I definitely downplayed some of my own dreams out of fear, though even now I’m not sure what exactly it was that I was afraid of. Fear that my friends would think my dreams were stupid? That they were unrealistic? That I wasn’t smart/strong/talented/[insert insecurity here!] enough to actually achieve them? I suppose a little of all of that.
The little/vague things are easy to talk about. It was easy for me to say that I wanted to be my own boss, to work with people who inspire me, and to find a way to combine my love of writing with my passion for travel and international education, while still making enough money to live a good life in San Francisco and travel often. The totally outrageous things are easy to talk about, too. Things like “I want someone to pay me to travel the world while I eat and drink and write about it!” because really, who doesn’t want that?
But the big things? Those are a lot scarier to admit. Things like “I want to be a published author!” Things like “I want to create a more cohesive blogger network for bloggers in the bay area!” Things like “I want to find a way to encourage college students to step outside their comfort zone and study abroad in programs and places that will make them more socially responsible and globally conscious people!” Because those things are all so different and HUGE and daunting and OMG what if I suck at all of them and where do I even start?
Also? All of those things would require me to be serious about changing my life.
And that is scary.
So what would I do if I wasn’t afraid? A lot of things.
I want to do something purposeful with my life, and though I might not know what exactly that is right now, I’m certainly not going to figure it out by sitting on the sidelines.
So the first thing I’m going to stop doing is being afraid to even try.
There have been more times than I would like to admit that I’ve stopped myself from going after something solely for fear of the possible rejection. Or times where I’ve made excuse after excuse about why it wasn’t right for me, when really, I was just afraid. Afraid of being rejected, yes, but also of the work that I would have to do if I wasn’t rejected. Or, like I mentioned above, the fear that I wouldn’t love it as much as I had hoped, and admit failure and have to start all over again when I’m even older than I am now.
But no one said living a life with intention and pursuing a life you are passionate about was easy!
Now it’s your turn. What would YOU do if you weren’t afraid? Please let me know in the comments below!
(And if, like me, even writing those things down is kind of scary, feel free to use a fake email and comment anonymously.)
Cheers to Friday and to not being afraid!
P.S. The What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid website has a constant upload of awesome, inspiring, and often hilarious things people would do if they weren’t afraid. And from the looks of it, the world would be a much happier place if we were all just a little less scared of everything!