On Becoming Fearless At Work

What does it mean to be fearless at work? Arianna took on this question in her book "On Becoming Fearless… In Love, Life, and Work." We hope you'll be inspired by her answers. Here's an excerpt:

Numerous studies -- not to mention centuries of real-world experience -- tell us that women possess the smarts and skills to succeed in any job. But here’s the catch (and one reason it’s taken so long for women to break through): There is a professional double standard so that the same behaviors that help men get ahead and prove their worth on the job are discouraged in women. This double standard creates enormous fears in women: We are afraid of being too assertive, we are afraid of not being good enough, and we live with an all-purpose anxiety that has led many of us into lives of workaholism.


Fearlessness gives us perspective on the role of work in our lives and will help us finally shatter the glass ceiling. But we need to conquer the workplace as women, in our own unique way, not as carbon copies of men -- briefcase-carrying, pinstripe-wearing career machines who just happen to have vaginas. María Otero is the CEO of the nonprofit ACCION International, which helps fund businesses for women in the developing world. “Being a woman makes me a better manager,” she said. “In some ways, being able to develop a management-leadership style that is based on forming a team is very much in line with the way I interact with my sisters or other women. We’re all in it together.”



One way to overcome the fears of being ambitious and assertive is by learning how to play the men’s office “game” but tailoring it to our own style. As Gail Evans observes in her book Play Like a Man, Win Like a Woman, knowledge of the men’s rule book equals power in the workplace. Taking credit for our work and accomplishments and fearlessly negotiating for compensation can be interpreted as ambitious and aggressive. But as Evans says, “You are who you say you are.” If you act timid and unimportant, that’s how you’ll be perceived.


Having perspective on what is important in our lives is another essential part of tapping into the boldness that allows us to fulfill our dreams. After two decades running a graphic design firm, Denise Houseberg stuck her neck out to start an Internet marketing business called MarketExpo.com, only to discover six months into it that she had breast cancer … “Breast cancer was the catalyst that removed a lifetime of fear ... Once you stare down the throat of your own demise and survive, you get pretty fearless about business matters,” she said. “Before my illness, I would have been like most women, who say, ‘What does it hurt to bootstrap, use my own money, and build things slowly?’ ”


Not letting our fears paralyze us is key in any new job or venture, especially when there is the possibility of public criticism or humiliation. We have to weigh the psychic cost of not trying against the possibility of not succeeding and being embarrassed by our efforts. The former creates regret, the latter a few hours -- or maybe a few days -- of licking our wounds.


Some of us try to get what we want through workaholism, but there’s another way: negotiation. The art of asking for what you want is a key to fearlessness at work … Many women shrink from the idea of negotiating because they think it just means being loud, aggressive, and pushy. In fact, the essence of negotiation is coming to an agreement that does not sacrifice what is essential to you while allowing the other party to do the same. It’s actually something women are brilliantly suited for.


As in other areas of life, being fearless at work doesn’t mean eliminating fear. It simply means acknowledging it, making it your ally, and not letting it stop you ... In 2002, Caroline Graham, the former West Coast editor of Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and Talk magazine, and her good friend editor in chief Tina Brown both lost their jobs after Harvey Weinstein, Talk’s publisher, decided to close the magazine.

At first, Caroline felt “shame and fear. I had no nest egg, four children, a house, and several dogs to take care of.” But she rallied and applied her professional skill -- and the relationships she’d nurtured -- to a new career running C4 Consulting, a marketing, public-relations, and event-planning firm: “In that emergency I got on the phone to those who had trusted me in the past and those who might need the expertise I had gained. I learned that I had more friends and more knowledge than I had imagined. My son Charlie pitched in as my partner, and we went at it like terriers. And it worked. Fighting fear was invigorating, and so was taking on the world in my way.”


Ultimately, to be fearless at work means to find a sense of self determination, accomplishment, fulfillment, and purpose that helps us live our best lives. What’s more, by being a leader at work -- taking risks and doing things in new ways -- we can mentor and show others the way to not only excel but transform the meaning of work.