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What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?

Daria BurkeEver so often, I have to remember to ask myself, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” (one of my favorite quotes, gifted to me by poet Mary Oliver). Ironically, those of us who have the most access and the most resources operate most from fear. “The stakes are too high,” we tell ourselves. “I have so much to lose,” the fear says. But I continuously asked myself (and close friends), when I started out on this entrepreneurial journey, “If not now, then when? And, “If not me, then who?” These reminders helped me stay focused on the bigger picture and on my dreams — even when folks thought I was crazy to leave my job at Estee Lauder and start this venture.

From a young age, we’re taught to operate from fear. Well-meaning parents and authority figures subconsciously project their own apprehension and limitations onto brave and bright-eyed youth, dulling their spirit and creating self-doubt. As often as I can, I volunteer with the high school aged students of The Young Women’s Leadership Schools in NYC. These young ladies are bold and brilliant. They have all the potential in the world. And while the school has a 98% college placement rate, its students often lack the resources and family infrastructure to facilitate a smooth transition from high school to college. Without fail, I find myself having to convince these girls that going away to school is a good thing, that they do in fact have what it takes to be admitted and succeed in Ivy league institutions, that Chicago isn’t too far away, that they can find the money to pay for private university, that they need to see the invisible and do everything in their power to actualize it. And without fail, I undercover during these talks that these fears aren’t their own, but in fact, those of the adults around them. Some of their biggest supporters are blindly dulling their light.

It continues on into adulthood. Career advice to undergrads is often given with a cautionary tone, leading dreamers to abandon notions of creative professional pursuits in exchange for that which is more…practical. It continues to surprise me the number of investment banking refugees now walking the halls of fashion and beauty companies, and the frequency with which I meet lawyers who have never once practiced law.

I hope my own story is one that inspires girls and women alike to actually seize the opportunities we’ve all been fighting so hard to have. We go to the best schools, and build the most impressive resumes, only to sit in fear of losing it all. What we fail to realize is no one can take any of those things away from us. A single failure doesn’t negate a strong track record of success. Just look at all the men out there who made bold moves with these tech start-ups. In some instances, those businesses may have failed, but you’d better believe that those founders failed up! They landed on their feet and sometimes, in better shoes than they were wearing before.

So I pose the same challenge to you that Sheryl Sandberg offers at the end of the first chapter of Lean In – Please ask yourself: “What would I do if I weren’t afraid? And then go do it.”

 

Source: Black MBA Women

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