Bravery and fear

Fear is a funny thing. On the one hand, it keeps us safe by ensuring that we avoid dangerous situations. On the other hand, the things we sometimes fear don’t present any actual physical danger. Even worse, sometimes our fear can keep us static, afraid to take action.

Our fear response is drive by the amygdala, often called the lizard brain. It’s served a crucial evolutionary purpose, but unfortunately it hasn’t evolved too much along with us. And it’s the reason that we sometimes feel fear in situations where there’s no physical threat.

Fear is a completely natural response to all kinds of situations, and while it can be controlled it can’t be completely eliminated. To get things done regardless of fear, we have to be brave.

What is bravery?

Bravery isn’t the absence of fear – it’s resilience to fear. People who are brave are usually not unafraid, but they make a choice to act regardless of the fear.

We tend to associate bravery with heroic deeds or life-threatening situations. People who battle cancer, or firefighters who risk their own lives to save others are undoubtedly brave. Yet there’s a lot to be said for small, everyday acts of bravery. Whether it’s speaking up in a meeting or just saying ‘no’ to someone.

In a work context, being brave often means speaking out about something. Usually if you don’t agree with it, or you’re certain there’s a better way to do things. As a leadership coach, I often work with my clients on being brave at work, and supporting them to make the shift from hiding away who they really are …to showing up as their real self, expressing what they really think and feel, and standing by what they believe in.

To explore the idea of being brave, I like to share my own experiences with them. Here’s two similar situations I’ve encountered where I’ve had to stand up for what I believe in.

Being brave – the first time

The first example was while I was working in an organisation as an employee. During my time there, I was asked to do something I really didn’t feel comfortable with. It was in relation to an external assessment. I was preparing documentation to be provided to the external assessor, and my line manager at that time asked me to exclude certain information.

Their reasoning was that the external assessor ‘really didn’t need to see it.’  However, in my view it was important information that could change the assessment outcome. I’ve been brought up to know that honesty is always the best policy. And hiding this information just didn’t sit right with me.

I was brave, and spoke up. I shared that it made me feel very uncomfortable, and I believed the information should be included. Unfortunately, this was very quickly brushed aside. The focus was immediately back onto clarifying the documents I had to include. And the ones I had to remove.

I was flabbergasted! Not only had this affected my values around what I believed in, I couldn’t understand why the organisation would want to hide the information. The assessment process could provide valuable information to help the organisation improve, but the organisation wouldn’t benefit from this as it wasn’t being true to itself. If everything that wasn’t ideal was being hidden, how could the organisation learn and make changes?

Although I didn’t get the outcome I wanted and the information was omitted, I at least felt a little better knowing that I’d spoken up.

Being brave – the second time

Unfortunately, that’s not the only time I’ve experienced something like this. Much later in my career, I was being asked to deliver a programme to a group of leaders but I was specifically requested to keep certain information out of my introduction. When I challenged this, the response was that it was non-negotiable.

Again, I felt that this was important information, and that by leaving it out we were choosing to be dishonest with the group. This clash in my values caused me to reassess my position as I knew if I continued, I wouldn’t be true to myself.

I knew I had a choice. The choice I made was to share my concerns, which unfortunately led to nothing, so I walked away.

Be brave, and live your values

Although both experiences caused a misalignment with my values, what was different the second time was that I was running my own business.

The first experience I had been an employee and my circumstances didn’t enable me to walk away. The second time I was able to vote with my feet because it was my own business. The stakes were still high because the client was worth a lot of money, but it was the right decision for me.

In fact, some people at the time couldn’t believe I’d walked away from such a large amount of money. However it wasn’t worth compromising my values, and that’s always what comes first for me.

It’s times like this I’m reminded of what Jon Stewart said:

If you don’t stick to your values when they’re being tested, they’re not values: they’re hobbies.

Both of these examples had quite different outcomes. But on both occasions I was able to stand up for what I believed in. Even if I wasn’t taken as seriously on the first occasion.

What helped me to do so was being very clear on my personal values, and understanding how important it is to me to uphold them.

That’s why one of the modules in the ‘Find the Real You’ course is focused on values. Not only will you learn what values are and why they’re important, you’ll identify your own core values and what’s important to you. And most importantly, you’ll evaluate how close you’re living in alignment with your values and plan how you’re going to start living your values more fully.

Find out more about the course, and book your place here.


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