Courage. A feeling that inspires strength in the face of pain. An ability to stand up when it is easier to stand down. A commodity that a cowardly lion sings about before reveling in his newfound belonging. Regardless of the definition, life requires courage, and I believe that the many women and men that attended the Women’s Foodservice Forum Annual Leadership Development Conference would candidly agree.
Earlier this month, I walked into my first WFF Conference in Dallas, Texas, and was in complete awe at what greeted me at the door: hundreds, if not thousands, of women. Women of all backgrounds, at all stages in their careers and all with unique experiences in the restaurant and foodservice industry. As a young woman beginning my career, I knew that my learnings would not just be limited to the dignified speakers like Michelle Obama, Maria Shriver or Gretchen Carlson, but that I would also learn a lot from the women I surrounded myself with at this conference. I was expecting to be inspired, influenced and energized among many other things, but the refreshed spunk and courageousness I left with was something totally unpredictable.
One of my first encounters with courage was at a session led by a young woman who made it her mission to face her fears every day. It started with accepting a challenge to live 100 days without fear. That challenge ultimately led her down a path of doing stand-up comedy in the city, dancing alone in Times Square, crowd surfing at a concert and doing a TED Talk in Houston. Michelle Poler, the founder of Hello Fears, knew a thing or two about courage and she was ready to share it all.
We began by identifying what courage is not. Courage is not being fearless, gutsy or dauntless; it’s being brave. Despite the fear you feel, you take action and do the right thing, knowing that it is outside of your comfort zone. Michelle discussed the challenge of getting outside of her own comfort zone, knowing that it was the only place where growth could happen. She stated that “comfort is the enemy of success,” and it is one of the obstacles that keep us from becoming our future selves. What obstacles could we eliminate if we weren’t so scared? Sheryl Sandberg asked us a similar question nearly five years ago in her book, “Lean In.” She said, “Ask yourself: What would I do if I weren’t afraid? Then go do it.”
At our Networking with Leaders Lunch, courage came up again. One woman in our group took action to start off the conversation. “After five years in marketing, I’ve decided to switch my career to HR. The only way we are going to get women leaders to the top is by recruiting them from the start, and I want to be their start.” While she didn’t use the word courage, we all knew it was well within her. She was an industry veteran in marketing and her decision to take a lateral step, maybe even a step-down, to a new position in HR was a move that she knew she had to make – a move that she knew was right. Despite the fear of what her boss might think, her husband might think or her peers might think, she acted outside of her comfort zone in the face of doubt. She acted in courage.
Courage is also born from rejection, according to Drew Dudley, founder of Day One Leadership. The goal of being rejected once a day allowed him to drive Formula One cars, make announcements on airplanes and help him marry the love of his life. But allowing yourself to be rejected takes courage. He then put the challenge on us: be rejected once a day. Scary, huh? Not when you think about the best thing that could possibly happen from trying to be rejected. Not only does it help you get comfortable with the idea of rejection, but it allows you to think and act outside of your comfort zone and try things that will push you farther to be the woman or man that you strive to be. So think to yourself, “How will I get rejected today and what’s the best that could happen?”
One of the final courage anthems of the conference came from the incredibly respected and down-to-earth woman, Michelle Obama. While she talked about being in the White House, having a former president as a husband and the everyday struggle of not being the favorite family to half the country, she also discussed her hardships as both a mother and a first lady, the importance of putting herself first and demanding diversity in the workforce.
Did you know that men feel they only need to be about 60 percent qualified for a job in order to apply for it while women usually look for jobs where they are 100 percent qualified before applying? Mr. and Mrs. Obama are no exception. Michelle talked about how her husband said “Yes” to the job of being president and she unreservedly said she would help him figure it out. She figured out his “Yes.” So why don’t we do that for ourselves? Why don’t we figure out our own “Yes?”
So guess what my first courageous act was? I went to the Tuesday night celebration party hosted by WFF, trekked down to the invigorated dance floor and danced with over 100 pretty incredible women. Now, you may not see this as courageous, but you haven’t seen me attempt to dance!
So stand up. Lean in. Break through. Face your fears. Beat yesterday. Switch careers. Say something. Get rejected. And dance like no one is watching, because we are women that will impact tomorrow’s generation and it starts with us. It starts right now.
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