No Guts, No Glory. Stop Playing It Safe with Your Dreams.

We have all seen the studies that show women undervalue their skills. I want to add something to this fact. Mothers, as well as women with a lifetime of experience, continue to believe that what they bring to the world doesn’t carry equal value. Raising children is the hardest job on earth. Women over 50 have gathered a lifetime of experience. And yet, both these groups are the biggest offenders—they minimize their worth.

We dismiss our skills, diminish our talents, and focus on the imperfections. After years of putting ourselves on the back-burner, we start to believe this is where we belong, where we should stay.  Heaven forbid, we start to push our skills, passions, or businesses to the front burner. We missed our chance, that ship has sailed, we rationalize to ourselves. These dreams will never go anywhere, so why bother. Forget dream big; we don’t allow ourselves to dream at all.

Studies prove that women only apply to jobs if we are certain that we have the skills to fulfill 100% of the job requirements. Guess what percentage men go for? 65%. If a man fails at something, he tells himself it simply wasn’t a good fit. A woman fails at something, and she blames herself.

Men have some innate ability to narrow focus and brush the self-doubt aside. I am sure some men suffer doubts and reservations, but studies show they are the minority. Women constantly second guess themselves. How many of us are playing it safe with our dreams?

For the last few months, I have been forcing myself to stop playing it safe. Before these lockdown days, my day job (professional public speaking coach) was doing nicely, ticking along. Although I always knew there was so much more I could do with it, I pulled back: Who was I to push myself forward? No way was I going to be able to promote my skills like younger businesswomen. And so I chugged along, keeping a low business profile.

Then one day, I saw a TV interview with a public speaking coach. After it ended, I sat frozen. This guy got the big prime time interview? He was weak, insipid, and his answers were all fluff and whipped cream, not a useful suggestion to be heard. I knew I could do a better job, so why wasn’t I the one on TV? The dream just felt too big, and the excuses flowed: I had left it too late. I wasn’t good with technology. My writing took up too much time. I didn’t have the guts. Any of this sound familiar?

I am fortunate to be surrounded by many brilliant women who do amazing things, and I started to take notice of how they talked about their skills. They rarely boasted or bragged, often prefacing their comment with “I’m just,” as in, I’m just a school teacher. They spoke about their ability as something they had worked at and now quietly shared with the world—no big hoopla. When I asked where they planned to take their work, they usually said they had gone as far as they could. They were too old or came to the game too late or weren’t tech-savvy to take their dreams further. 

Now, I mean no disrespect, but can you imagine a man being good at something and keeping it to himself? No. Most men will run with the smallest glimmer of talent, write a How-To manual, get on the speaking circuit, and decide what to wear for the interviews. Why not? What’s the worst that could happen, they tell themselves.

Men seem to be born with innate bravado, completely assured in the fact that they have worth to share with the world. They grab the spotlight and shine it in their eyes. Most mothers are usually so busy juggling demands they don’t even know where the spotlight is. And, most women-of-a-certain age are busy shining the spotlight on their offspring. We need to stop playing it safe. Men don’t, so why do we?

As a public speaking coach, I see this all the time. Female clients come to me frustrated that their voices aren’t heard—figuratively, occasionally literally. In business meetings, dinner parties, or networking events, they find themselves talked over by the men. A question or discussion topic pops up, and while the women pause to consider their answers—or decide if they are even qualified to answer—a man has jumped in and said his piece. 

If a woman misspeaks, she is often mortified and chides herself for her haste or lack of knowledge. But when a man misspeaks, he forgives himself and moves forward. Why do even the most confident among us do this to themselves? Despite being raised by parents who told us to chase our dreams—just as we told our children—we undervalue our skills and assume that our talents are not noteworthy. 

So, what did I do after I saw the TV interview with the less-than-stellar speaking coach? I stopped playing it safe. Every day, I take a deep breath and push myself out of my comfort zone. I pitch ideas for articles. I offer to be interviewed (terrifying the first time I did it.) I suggest presentation topics for networking sites, etc. etc. It hasn’t all been plain sailing, but I am seeing real progress. Things I wouldn’t have even have thought about before, I now throw myself into. Why not? What’s the worst that could happen.

I keep telling myself I am not too old. I did not come too late to the game. I will learn all this tech stuff. Not to say there haven’t been snags. Last week, I tackled a new platform which, despite crossing every and dotting every I, didn’t quite work out as I hoped. I regrouped and moved forward the next day with an alternative. It left me a bit shaken, and later on, I told a male work friend about my saga. His response? Probably the technology, that platform is known to be glitchy, happens to me all the time. 

On my wall, I put 4 questions—not original, I saw them somewhere else.

  • What do you really, really want?
  • What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
  • What are you telling yourself are the reasons you can’t achieve your goal?
  • What’s one thing you could do this week to take a small step towards that goal? 

Your dreams don’t die because you get old. You get old because you let your dreams die.

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