05/31/2012 02:47 pm ET Updated Jul 31, 2012

Difficult Woman or Fearless?

When a woman is described as tough, sexual, smart or ugly, you can almost count on that woman being accomplished, secure in her sexuality, intelligent and unaffected by her looks. Women who have forged ahead in their lives, unapologetic for their choices and unaffected by others who would clearly be more comfortable with them if they were "less than" or more like a traditional woman, are an example of true fearlessness.

Do all women feel the pull between what they want to do and what they are expected to do?

My great-grandmother was a difficult woman who swore like a longshoreman and was as tough as the horses she raised. My grandmother was a "tough broad" who regularly out-fished the men in her town and drank them under the table. The men in their lives respected these women for their toughness and their ability to survive.

I learned that toughness and laughter was a prerequisite to personal happiness. When I graduated from the University of Washington and was immediately recruited by Xerox, I felt the rush of independence I feel sure my ancestors experienced on a regular basis. Over the decades, as I accomplished more, I tested myself in new areas and moved confidently forward, unafraid of failure. I witnessed a strange backlash filled with contradictions. The criticism leveled at me included being "too much" of everything: I was too smart, too attractive, too athletic, too driven, too loud when I laughed, too enmeshed with my children as a single parent and the coup de gras -- I was too fearless.

Too fearless?

When faced with challenges, I believe we can be fearless and move forward and change or we can hold back and stay the same. Either choice is OK, but understand that your choice will change the trajectory of your life, one challenge at a time.

There are many women who have overcome fear and here are a few of those remarkable women:

Christine Legarde knows something about being fearless. Throughout her career she has faced unusual challenges -- intellectual and political -- in a male-dominated world and currently at the IMF, where she represents 187 countries.

Mae West chose to be an independent woman who was comfortable with her sexuality. The political climate of the times, however, saw her open sexuality as pornographic.

Oprah is proof that nothing can keep you from your dreams if you are willing to work hard enough and care deeply to make a difference in the lives of others.

Lillian Hellman was called difficult because she drank, swore and slept around like a man. She was self-supporting and unapologetic about it.

Hillary Clinton is a woman of forceful opinions. She threw herself into every tough political battle. When her life was filled with scandal, she forged ahead with courage and conviction and laughed at the notion that she was in any way difficult.

Trying to hold a fearless woman back is never a good idea and thankfully, it rarely succeeds. When women are driven by instinct and feel empowered to achieve, it is a beautiful thing to witness.

I'd like to hear from those who had to come up the hard way and achieve success by overcoming fear.