7 Things Fearless Women Do Differently
Surprise! This is really a story about how much I suck at running.
(Don’t worry, we’ll get around to the fearlessness thing in just a minute, but first thing’s first…)
I’ve always wanted to be a runner. Or maybe I’ve just always wanted to be thinner and was enticed by the fantasy of one day jogging happily (sexily?) around my neighborhood park in shorts and a sports bra. Either way for most of my life, I’ve longed to be part of the elusive and illustrious club of recreational runners.
So, about a month ago I started running . . . and promptly hated it.
I hate running because it is boring . . . as hell. I hate running because I have big boobs and have finally (finally!) admitted to myself that my sports bra fantasy is never going to come true. But most importantly, I hate running because I suck at it.
You’ve probably forgotten what it feels like to really suck as something. That’s because when you’re a kid, adults encourage you to try everything and sometimes you suck at things. But as you get older, you’re encouraged to specialize. You are rewarded for doing things you’re good at so that’s what most people do.
But some people don’t. Some women manage to sidestep the very grown-up myth that the only things worth doing are things that are safe, and understood by those around you. Some women repeatedly dive head first into uncharted waters, learning bit by bit how to identify a risk worth taking. Some women are not afraid to fail a little bit before they succeed. These are fearless women.
In the last four weeks, I have become one of them. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Fearless women . . . show weakness in public.
Fearlessness is not the absence of fear. It is the acknowledgment that your fear and your strength can and do coexist in one place, in one goal, in one opportunity. Fearlessness means being honest about the highs and the lows that come with taking a huge risk. As it turns out, it’s way harder to surround yourself with people and places where you can be authentic, scared, and vulnerable, than it is to act like those emotions don’t exist for you.
Don’t hide your fears; find people who respect your fears (i.e. your tears, rants, and days when you just want to hide under the covers) as much as they respect your passion, determination, and fierceness. As Brené Brown points out in her inspiring talk about vulnerability, you can’t numb one powerful emotion without numbing the rest.
Fearless women . . . do things people don’t expect them to do.
It seems like every time I turn on the television, I see a news story about black people and diabetes. In the last month, I’ve read three articles in major publications about how black women, in particular, are overweight and unhealthy. (I won’t get into the politics of public shaming or a critique of mass media’s historical obsession with black women’s bodies… too early in the morning for all of that.)
Still, if the mainstream media is to be believed, recreational running just isn’t something that black women do. So I run. When I am exhausted and want to stop, I keep running because, to be honest, I really, really like kicking societal expectations in the ass.
Fearless women . . . keep moving.
When I first started running, I used to stop a lot. I would run (ahem, jog) as hard and as long as I could (usually for about five minutes) and then my asthma would kick in and I would need to stop. The tricky thing about stopping though, is that once you stop, the temptation to give up for good comes creeping slyly into your psyche.
Every single time I stopped midway through a workout, I didn’t want to start running again. After about a week, I decide that no matter what, I had to keep moving – even if that means walking at a snail’s pace while “real” runners lap me. Fearless women have big goals. Big goals require stamina.
Fearless women . . . know how NOT to be the best at something.
Contrary to popular belief, knowing how to be the best at something is not that hard. The reason why is simple: most of us only try to be the best at things that we’re already good at. Sure it takes some effort, some practice, and a bit of time, but being the best at something you’re already good at isn’t rocket science.
Knowing how NOT to be the best at something? Knowing how to be the last one chosen in gym class? *points to self* Knowing how to start from scratch in a career you’re passionate about but have no prior training? Now that takes guts. And humility. And patience. And grace.
Fearless women . . . focus on mini-milestones.
On my very first run, all I could think about was getting to the end of the trail. That didn’t help much. Since I started off pretty slow, getting to the end of a two mile loop was slow going. Then one day, during one of my more industrious moments of hard-core jogging, I decided that instead of worrying about the end of the trail, some 1.5 miles away, I was just going to jog to the tree fifty yards in front of me.
When I got to the tree and still had a little more energy left, I decided to jog to the next tree. The magic of mini-milestones? No matter how fatigued you are, it always seems possible to jog another fifty yards. And even if it’s not? Even if you get to the tree and feel like you can’t job another step, that’s okay. When you have a big dream that you’re chasing, each mini-milestone is a reminder that slowly but surely, you’re accomplishing what you set out to do.
Fearless women . . . set their own standards.
Comparing myself to other runners does not bring out my best qualities. Seeing another runner breeze by, barely perspiring while I huff and puff my way around the track at a snail’s pace makes me a little bit nuts (read: bitchy). At some point during week three of battling with the green-eyed monster, I came to the belated conclusion that I don’t really care if Susie and John and whoever else is killing the game.
Why? Because Susie and John don’t care about me either. They don’t care that I’m trying to lose ten pounds. They are not going to help me run three miles in thirty minutes (my goal by the end of the summer), or achieve any other objective that I’ve set for myself. They are a distraction. These days when I’m on the track, the only competition going down is the one between my current self and the self that I want to be. By some miracle, future self is winning.
Fearless women . . . finish things they start.
I hate running but I can’t stop. Why? Because I have a goal that is bigger than my laziness or embarrassment or boredom and because I am trying to practice putting my name on things that I can be proud of. Projects. Initiatives. Promises.
Sometimes we set goals that are unrealistic. Sometimes we make stupid promises. Sometimes it makes more sense to bow out gracefully. But every once in awhile, we set a goal in response to a collision of our values, actions, and intentions; a goal that we can proudly dedicate, not to the woman we are today, but to the woman we want to become. In those cases, you’re obligated to finish what you start. Especially if you’re only quitting because it’s hard.
Fearless women . . . ask for help.
This is the part where I talk about how awesome my boyfriend is. He’s awesome for many reasons but one of the main reasons is that he is incredibly patient with the fact that his girlfriend doesn’t know how to ask for help. (Diagnosis: Strong Black Women syndrome.)
When the boo and I first started running together, I hated it. He’s way more in shape than I am and I hated the fact that he would slow down so that I could catch up/keep up. I even hated when he would say encouraging things because it reminded me how much I sucked at running.
I was embarrassed to be less than great in front of someone who has always been my biggest cheerleader. It never occurred to me that he actually LIKED being part of my growth process, that he liked having an opportunity to assist and encourage someone who is otherwise known for having her sh*t together.
In your life you will encounter people who see things in you that you can’t see yet. You will meet people whose belief in you isn’t contingent upon whatever accomplishments are en vogue at the moment. These people will want to help you. Let them.
What does fearlessness mean to you? What didn’t make the list that should have? What will you tell your daughter (or niece, or younger cousin, or mentee) about what it means to be fearless?