And there I was, simply her mom letting her be brave so she could develop this thing called courage.
When it comes to teaching our daughters to lead, how do we do that? How far should we go? Encourage good grades? Encourage career over all else? Do we teach them to forge ahead first? To seek and take advantage of each and every opportunity that comes along?
How about if we teach our daughters this: to have courage. “Courage, fortunately, is a teachable and learnable skill,” according to Bill Treasurer, Kimberly Adelman, and Laura Cohn of Giant Leap Consulting in their article, “The Power of Courage for Women Leaders.”
“The trick to building courage competency is to purposefully move outside of your comfort zone on a regular basis. Don’t move so far out as to become petrified with fear, but enough that your body starts to give you the physiological cues that you’ve become uncomfortable,” write the authors.
My daughter knows these physiological cues. Two years ago, she was completing a three-month internship in Venice, Italy at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, a well-known modern art museum located on the Grand Canal. At first, her foray to the floating city caused much stress and worry, especially in the early days of her time there. She experienced stomach aches, anxiety, and a lack of appetite.
She also experienced environmental and social challenges: Venice’s maze-like corridors, the language barrier, new colleagues and workplace. And then there was the peeping Tom.
However, as her internship continued, she became accustomed to her experience there, and she was able to enjoy it completely. It was good to feel courageous despite the difficulties. I remember my daughter saying this about her day-to-day experience alone in Italy: “I became comfortable being uncomfortable.” She even said one day about a month after she returned home that she missed the feeling of discomfort she had become so accustomed to.
“Moving into your discomfort zone is how you learn and grow,” writes Treasurer. Believe it or not, true discomfort will build courage. And courage is at least part of the solution to overcoming the organizational biases that “inadvertently favor men” for leadership roles, writes Treasurer, Adelman, and Cohn.
Well, guess what? My daughter recently returned to Venice for two months for another internship… to help staff the U.S. Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, the renowned international exhibition of contemporary art from countries across the globe.
In the weeks prior to her departure, my friends and co-workers asked me how I felt about her return to Italy. They asked me:
“It’s so far away. That doesn’t bother you?”
“How are you handling it?”
“Aren’t you worried about her?”
I told them that I was fine with it. I told them that I encouraged her to apply for the opportunity.
And then I doubted myself and wondered…
Should I feel this unfazed?
Am I being careful enough?
Should I be so willing to let her go so far?
This was followed by a confident second or two when I asked myself, “Aren’t I just doing what mothers should do with their daughters?”
Shouldn’t I let my daughter be brave? Let her travel? Let her get so far outside her comfort zone that being uncomfortable feels comfortable? Isn’t this what the authors of The Power of Courage for Women Leaders are getting at? After all, aren’t I just allowing my daughter to grow in ways I was never encouraged to? Independently? Without commitments?
Don’t we encourage our sons this way?
And yes, I get it, she’s an adult and completely able to navigate across time zones, oceans, and mountain ranges. And yes, she did eventually meet up with a roommate. But until then, she was simply my daughter venturing forth alone in a big, big world. And there I was, simply her mom letting her be brave so she could develop this thing called courage.
So, is this the price I must pay—this apprehension and fear that comes and goes when I imagine her navigating Venice, alone, head down, leaning into the misty winds of early May? Is this the price I must pay to demonstrate to my daughter that she deserves to be brave and to venture forth into the world?
Is this the price I will pay to teach her to lead with courage? Will I go farther or have I gone far enough?
These are the wonderings of an anxious mother’s heart. Feel free to leave a comment to share your thoughts. Have you ever watched your child venture forth into the world, yet had your own reservations about watching them do just that? Follow my blog for more posts on parenting, travel, and education.