Let’s Get Rid of the “F” Word!


We’ve all been there. Heart racing, pulsating so hard that all we hear are the internal bass drum in our ears. Palms drenched in perspiration. Faces flushed with heat. Minds firing with anticipation of what will happen next. Our tongues so thick surely no words will form. Saliva replaced by sandpaper, we experience our first taste, the taste of fear.

And from that moment on, we begin to imagine every combination of possible outcomes. And the Nike slogan “Just Do It” becomes the chant of Olympic heroines, not one for us mere mortals. It is precisely this moment when we drop the “F” bomb. Fear! I can’t do it! It’s not good enough. They won’t like it! I will fail! Doubt creeps in and creativity and innovation are thwarted.

My First

Recently reflecting on my first memory of fear, I recalled learning to ride my bike. Oh the thought of hitting the concrete was overwhelming! It rose up to greet me several times, scarring my knees and capturing my front teeth but I never gave up. Why? Because my desire to join the “freedom riders” aka “kids without training wheels” was greater than my fear.

Other playground successes soon followed; four square, track, and 3-leggeded races became my domain. My 10-year old swagger was badass! I realized I could do most anything I put my mind to. I went home at dusk confident that my place in playground lore was secure.

And then it happened. Becky with the “good” hair moved in town. Becky was taller and prettier, or she seemed like it at the time. But it wasn’t her beauty that struck fear. F*@!  She could Double Dutch… and alas, I could not. Those sinewy ropes of urban legend would be my downfall. That old “F” word was pounding louder and louder. I practiced daily, wearing my floral print pedal pushers and lucky Red Ball Jets. Surely this hard work would pay off:

Everyday I would try to skip into the center of the action and be a star.


The ropes were more than just a playground game. Everyone knew they represented the great racial divide. My black girlfriends were really good at it. I could feel them looking at me saying, “Come on girl you CAN do this!” My white girlfriends were saying, “SURELY you can do this?” The words are nuanced, but the expectations were tremendous and it is where I learned to “sit-on-the-fence” to negotiate both worlds. It would be years later when Stevie Wonder penned “As” and sang, “just make sure when you say you’re in it but not of it” that I found the words to describe how I truly felt.

It was right about this time in the summer of ’68 when I had my first “coach.” She observed my technique, and watched my rope turners. Most importantly, she simply validated me. She praised my efforts, my tenacity and my right to fail.

Turning Fear Into Opportunity

I thought about this as I read the HBR May cover article “Increasing Your Return on Failure.” The story cites a 2015 Boston Consulting Group study that shows 31% of respondents list fear of failing and a risk averse culture as obstacles to innovation. Companies are learning to celebrate failure while devising intricate surveys, metrics and feedback loops to increase shared learning. The article states that failure is less painful when you extract the maximum value. Let’s face it, failure is painful no matter how you view it and it can increase fear of trying. So I vote for eradicating the “F” word and replacing it with the big “O”, OPPORTUNITY!

The key lies in creating a culture that values empathy, agility and cultural sensitivity. These will be important factors in attracting future, highly creative millennial leaders. Like the events I just shared, everyone comes to work with a story. A lens by which they filter decisions, actions and beliefs impacting their leadership styles. So if you really want to unleash innovation, get to know your people. Use coaching to increase the emotional intelligence of your leaders. Shift their consciousness levels to use positive anabolic reactions to all opportunities; even those that don’t produce desired results.

There is a process to living your life and each person has the responsibility and fortune to pick their own path. I wish I could say that I mastered Double Dutch but I never did. What I did learn is to move on and create my own stage for success; to not be defined by others’ expectations; and most importantly, to recognize that success lies in teamwork, no woman does it alone! There will be many things in life that I will not master, but it won’t be because of fear.









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