I’ve realised that for a long time, I was doing 10% braver all wrong. I’m writing this in case some of you are doing it wrong too, whether you’ve realised it yet or not.
Following the WomenEd hashtag on Twitter and listening to those I respected around me made me feel as though I was only being a strong and courageous woman if I was being 10% braver often. I could only change the world by doing the kind of 10% braver that left me exhausted. Everyone else seemed to be spinning so many plates and contributing so much of themselves to others that I felt I needed to keep up. This says a great deal more about my outlook at the time than it does the community that is WomenEd but there was an aspect of 10% braver that I didn’t hear anyone talking about.
There were good kinds and bad kinds of 10% braver.
There was the kind of 10% braver that others expected of me so I did it without questioning whether it aligned with my own values and moral purpose.
There was the kind of 10% braver that filled me with fear and dread to the very soles of my feet so that I could barely think, act, sleep or function. It was the kind of fear that I told myself I should expect if I was being brave.
There was the kind of 10% braver that left me utterly exhausted at the end of the day, week, month and year as I put in more and more work hours to make up for perceived deficits that I thought only things I was scared of could rescue me from.
There was the kind of 10% braver that made me give all of myself to others, leaving none of it left for my life.
It’s only with time and perspective that I’ve been able to notice this. At the time, I thought I was progressing my career, grasping for my potential that felt ever out of reach, and moving beyond myself and all my perceived areas of weakness; rising above. I proclaimed to everyone that I was being 10% braver and received well wishes and congratulations with women championing me from all corners. I thought that this was feminism. This was belonging. This was progress. This was success.
I hid all of the shame, the stress, the not living up to my ‘potential’, and always striving for better when ‘better’ meant taking me further from myself.
In a previous role, I was asked to ‘coach’ a number of colleagues after their ‘developmental’ observations had been deemed inadequate. When I worked with one colleague in particular, she was initially excited about the opportunity and I enjoyed being in her lessons. I practised my self-taught instructional coaching as best I could. She left the organisation. For a long time I owned this as my own failure to coach and to develop another person and so I continued to dig deep and do the job that was asked for me with other colleagues. I perceived this as me being 10% braver at the time; stepping outside of my comfort zone and developing areas I saw as my own weaknesses to make progress and achieve success. It was an even longer time before I realised the reality. Here was a system that was anything but living up to it’s ‘developmental’ label. The coaching stemmed not from a desire for a teacher to improve with the help of a colleague but from a breakdown of communication and a lack of a respectful relationship between the teacher and their manager. The involvement of HR added an obtuse angle of capability that aligned neither with my role nor my soul. It is also obvious now that I look back how many of these teachers were BAME. I was so focused on myself and my own perceived lack of skills and knowledge that I failed to recognise that my 10% braver was facing in entirely the wrong direction. Instead of challenging the system and choosing another path, I was harming both myself and others by stepping so far out of my comfort zone that I was no longer in sight of myself.
I use this example as one of many I could have chosen to share with you. I use it not just as a means of excising some ghosts but also to demonstrate the kind of compromising 10% braver we can persuade ourselves into in the name of anything but a joyful life lived with values and purpose.
I can’t say that I’ll never say yes to something in the name of 10% braver that I really should have said no to but I’m far more aware of the nature of bravery that nourishes me rather than damages me. Let’s take a look at this healthier kind of 10% braver.
A healthy 10% braver is one that leads me to running a bookshop in Scotland and living out my dreams.
A healthy 10% braver is one that leads me to sit and shake my head on the side of a jetty as my partner leaps into the warm holiday sea before taking a moment, a deep breath, plunging in and doing things in my own way without being unnecessarily reliant on the encouragement and support of others.
A healthy 10% braver leads me to applying for a job I know I will love in an organisation I know I will feel proud to work for even though it means jumping clean off the ladder everyone else set up for me to climb so that I can return to myself.
A healthy 10% braver leads me to suggesting that we shout at the full moon whilst flying along in an open topped car beneath the starry night sky to experience the kind of joy I want to feel more often (would highly recommend by the way!)
A healthy 10% braver leads me to running a workshop at work about diversity because I think it’s a conversation that should take place. I set aside the fear I feel because this is insignificant in the face of the challenging conversation that needs to be had.
It’s also the kind of 10% braver that allows me to take my lunch break, to finish work on time, to focus on one job at a time, to not feel the need to respond to colleagues immediately, to take a walk if my head needs clearing, to set aside thinking time, and to make the right decisions in my working day for my health.
None of these are easy, especially that last one, but I don’t feel the same discomfort I felt when I was living out others’ values and expectations of me. I don’t feel the same sense of unease at departing so far from who I am instead of drawing on my strengths.
Take care not to be fooled into thinking that something that makes you feel good more than it does fearful is not filled with bravery and therefore isn’t worthy of your time or celebration. It takes courage to live your life on purpose and to be true to your values. Far more courage in fact than is needed to live someone else’s life and diminish your own value in the process.
A healthy 10% braver never expects perfection from you. You can demand as much or as little of yourself as you feel capable of at the time. Sometimes the bravest decision is to stop.
A healthy 10% braver may still be accompanied by a voice that says you can’t do this but your values can guide you to a decision that sets aside imposter syndrome and your inner gremlin.
A healthy 10% braver doesn’t sap you of your strength. It makes you stronger.
A healthy 10% braver doesn’t make you feel as though you’re living someone else’s life. You’re living your life on purpose.
A healthy 10% braver doesn’t feel you with crippling dread. It’ll lead to joy.
Anything that doesn’t is mere imitation. Leave it be. It doesn’t serve you.