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  • Tessa White

Twenty Seconds of Insane Courage

Updated: May 1, 2019

If any of you have seen the movie, "We Bought a Zoo", you'll remember the great scene where the dad is talking to his son about how to work through a rough problem that seemingly had no winning resolution without personal embarrassment. His advice was sage: "Sometimes all you need is just need twenty seconds of insane courage. Literally, just twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it".



My children and my co-workers will attest that I use this statement frequently paired with my belief that we should all try something that scares us to death at least once or twice a year.

I know the odds that a spurt of courage will play in your favor at least once in awhile and your great risk will pay dividends you can scarcely imagine. It makes it worth the effort to leap off that diving board, with the hopes there will be water when you land. And the more often you take those risks, simple math odds will tell you that you'll win the more you try. I subscribe to this approach because I lived it. Twenty seconds of insane courage, paired with trying something that scared the Bejesus out of me, led me on a career path I could scarely have imagined for myself.

This approach was quite literally forced upon me, when I was a young mother of three children, my life up-ended when my spouse announced he wanted to leave me for another man. Did not see that one coming. As a young girl, I dreamed of my perfect life and this was not in it. But there it was, all layed out in honesty. I had no college degree, three children, and no idea what my next move would be. Fast forward to twenty second of insane courage, and I applied for a job I had no business getting. The odds worked in my favor on that risk. Another twenty years, and some failures, and some successes, and I learned that for certainty, if I didn't take the risk, the outcome was certain. But If I did take the risk, it was all upside. The worst that could happen is that I'd end up where I was without taking the risk at all. But every permeation from the hard "no" I imagined, up to getting far more than I expected, was available when I did the thing that scared me to death.

While this advice is sage for both my sons and daughters, I find that it is especially relevant for women in the workforce-- and young women even more so. There are differences I see every time I work with young people entering the workforce. While I am not saying this is true in all cases (generalizations are dangerous I realize), our young women often present themselves differently--coming across as collaborative, but not always confident, minimizing experience that is relevant and important. This carries through to seeking promotions in the workforce. I see capable women hold back on opportunities because they don't feel they are as qualified or ready, when in reality there is nothing better sometimes than diving in!

A landmark study was published in 2003, and it found women don't get ahead at work because they don't step up and ask for money and promotions. While you can argue that study is old, Harvard Business Review recently published an article entitled, "Even When Women Ask for a Raise, They Don't Ask for Enough", written by Kathryn Heath. Countless newer studies have observed the same dynamic I described in my experience. Her advice is to "dial up"--visualize a remote control and then dialing it up three clicks to increase your ask and your confidence. And my advice added, is to then apply twenty seconds of insane courage. Then rinse and repeat until it feels natural to you.

I'll leave you with a few ideas challenge you to find twenty seconds of insane courage this month--after all, how appropriate given it's March Madness. Find the "madness" in you by saying or doing one thing that scares you to death: Talk to a senior leader about how to solve a problem and then offer to tackle it, stay late to work on a process that could better your department, ask a leader to lunch and learn about them and their journey to get to where they are, apply for the job you want but are scared of, ask for the promotion or the raise with confidence, or quit the job you have hated and reposition yourself into a career that you have only dreamed about.

I'm willing to bet the farm you'll be pleasantly surprised at what unfolds.



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