The message from my website was compelling – a highly respected charity wanted me to speak at their annual conference. There were to be many industry movers and shakers in the room and it would certainly be a good opportunity to make new connections and revive old ones. I knew the person who had made the invitation, we went way back. I also knew that to attend the event would take two days of my time and I wouldn’t be getting paid.
As someone who only gets paid when I speak it’s a big commitment to speak for free as it usually means turning away paid work further down the line. We manage this by having a pro-bono calendar, set at the beginning of the year. And this event didn’t fit into my plans. It’s not that I couldn’t do the event, I just didn’t want to.
Which didn’t feel like a good enough reason to say no. It obviously wasn’t physically hard to say no. It was emotionally hard. It made me feel bad just thinking about it.
A few days after I was chatting with a colleague – Jo - who also works in the industry. “Just say no. And don’t worry,” she added, “it gets easier the more you do it.”
I could have told the charity I was busy, was interstate or make up another excuse but I didn’t. I told them the truth because “respect trumps harmony”. I would rather them have their noses a little out of joint than pretend and somehow have them find out later.
It felt good afterwards, like I had done something worthwhile. That’s when I decided to deliberately do something emotionally courageous each day for a month – one brave action.
Each day since then I’ve done at least one thing that’s emotionally hard for me to do. Something I know is worthwhile, but I still find myself resisting.
One day I reached out to a friend of mine whom I treated poorly, and apologized. Another day I asked a client for a referral. One day, I cancelled an important business lunch to attend an event at my son’s school. Another day I told a group of people how much I cared about them. Just today I told someone I didn’t want to continue working with him.
Try it. Once a day, pick something you’re a little scared to do or say and then follow through with it. Take the blame for something if it was your fault. Ask for a raise. Point out something to your manager that’s getting in the way of your success. Go to dinner and leave your mobile at home. Your brave action is personal to you because what’s challenging to you is particular to you; it doesn’t matter if others are challenged by it.
I have one rule for this practice other than doing it: Speak and act with honesty, compassion and respect. In other words, I can’t lie to avoid a dinner and if I’m going to deliver bad news to someone I am sensitive to how they feel. That doesn’t mean I sugar-coat my actions, it just means I do my best to be respectful and caring in the process. I work hard at communicating thoughtfully and skilfully.
One brave action a day is powerful because it flexes and strengthens the muscle that encourages us to act with integrity–to say the things we feel and believe–even when those things contradict the prevailing culture. It makes us stronger, more powerful actors in the world.
To follow through with one brave action a day, we need to overcome our natural fear that taking this action or saying that thing will have a negative consequence. Maybe people won’t like us. Maybe they’ll talk behind our backs. Maybe we’ll be hurt in some way. Maybe we’ll hurt someone else.
Those things are a risk, which is why it’s brave! But so far, it hasn’t backfired. I am happier and more effective, making better choices, and far less prone to procrastination. And I like myself more; I feel more honest and straightforward.
Jo was right: Each day it’s getting easier to follow through on my brave action; I am getting stronger.