When the Fearless Girl was unveiled in 2017, I was working at the company that had commissioned the statue. I was looking for my next opportunity having determined pretty quickly that I was too strong and outspoken for the company’s repressive culture.
As I watched people’s reactions to the statue, I tried to understand the reasons behind the strong emotions she evoked and the almost universal endorsement by women of this little girl standing up to the bull. It was obvious to me that women took her as an inspiration and the confirmation of the message we continuously receive – if you only stand up for yourself, if you only stop being fearful and get out there and demand what is yours, everything will fall into place. So get out there, face your fears, lean-in and own your success.
But is that really true? Is the only obstacle we face our own fear and our unwillingness to grab the bull by the horns? We all know that is not the case. Yet there are no schools that teach you how to be fearless. There are no courses where you learn about the obstacles and how to overcome them successfully.
Every time I look at the girl staring down the bull, a different image comes to mind - a Spanish bullfighter fighting the bull in the arena. The Spanish know a thing or two about taming that proud beast so why not learn from them? The bullfighter never faces the bull directly until she has worn him down enough to go for the kill. Because she knows that the bull will win if she is not smart, careful, and skillful in weakening its defenses and devising the right strategy to prevail.
Fearless girl is seeking equality and power, but nobody is going to give up those things without a fight. No matter how many diversity committees the incumbents create and sit on alongside you, make no mistake – it is a war and you must fight like a general to win it.
No general will go into battle without the right weapons in his arsenal. And no skillful general will expose his troops to a direct confrontation with a stronger, more powerful enemy without a proper plan. So why would we? Every woman needs an arsenal of weapon at her disposal before she embarks on her fearless fight. I learned this the hard way, through many mistakes and some successes during the past 20 years in the financial industry. I want to share some of the rules I have made up for myself along the way.
1. Know what you are after
You have a much better chance of succeeding if you know what you want. What is the ambition that drives you? Are you pursuing a big dream that is worth every sacrifice? Fearlessness for its own sake won’t get you anywhere. You must know what you are fighting for.
Nobody is fearless. We as humans experience fear in situations that we perceive as threatening or dangerous. It is a healthy psychological response that helps us survive. It is not that you do not experience fear, it is how you act despite fear. It is courage much more than lack of fear that gets results.
Nothing in life just happens. You have to work at it to make it so.
2. Develop thick skin
Practice makes perfect. Getting better at anything requires repetition and learning from experience. You cannot assume that your fearlessness will be taken well when you try it. When something goes wrong, you will suffer consequences. Do not be afraid of consequences. That is the best way to learn that you will survive adversity and come out stronger and more resilient than ever. You will learn a lot about yourself along the way and develop the personal power to withstand any storm.
Thick skin will be the best armor to protect you from getting hurt emotionally and help you to see a situation for what it is. When people treat you unfairly, the worst thing you can do is to take it personally and blame yourself. When I was younger, I assumed that it was my fault that my male colleagues got all the promotions for doing very similar work. It took me years to clearly see the disparity in treatment, the subconscious bias I faced every day. This is not going away any time soon. How you view a particular situation will determine whether you will find a way to still get what you want.
3. Anticipate consequences
Intimidation is the weapon of choice of your detractors. You need to be ready to face criticism, attempts to scare you, discourage you, blame you for things you did not do. When your boss expects you to behave unethically and then tells you that you have performance problems because you refuse, you need the presence of mind to fight back.
Retaliation is another favorite of the powerful. If you stand between them and their ego or greed, you will pay a price. As a woman, you are not supposed to get up and demand your rights. People will instinctively try to bring you down. Do not let them. Understand and be comfortable that there are many opportunities in life and that you are not stuck. You will only be stuck if you accept defeat and do not pursue your ambitions. Nobody said that being fearless was comfortable!
4. Pick the right strategy
When you are pursuing your dreams, you are inevitably dealing with people with their own interests and ambitions. Whether they help you or hurt you, depends on how their interests interact with yours. You have to understand that and devise a strategy to either get them on your side or move them out of the way. Be a careful observer of people around you and understand how to work with them successfully.
Create opportunities to practice your strategy. Put yourself in uncomfortable situations and test your thinking. It is very counter-intuitive but that is the only way to learn how to think on your feet and get mentally and emotionally strong to withstand any challenge.
Be your own general. Strategize before each battle. Day in and day out.
5. Never Give Up
You only have one life, make sure you are living your life. You can spend your years doing others’ bidding and letting everyone claim your resources – your time, money, energy, thoughts, emotions, inner strength, until there is nothing left. Or you may own all of the above by having big dreams and doing the hard work to achieve them.
Self-knowledge, self-confidence and self-belief are indispensable if you are going to fight for yourself and win. Do not doubt or second-guess yourself on important decisions. Do your research, develop a strategy and execute to the best of you abilities. If you fail, try again and again until you succeed.
I have learned these lessons through my share of battles that I fought partly because of inexperience, partly because of my strong personality. Looking back, I probably would have done a few things differently. But having gone through some pretty tough battles, I have come away with an extremely positive outlook on life – that no matter what life throws at me, I am prepared.
Be courageous, be deliberate in your approach and skillful in dealing with the bull that must be tamed. The arena is awaiting its victor.