Courage is a character trait that is rarely associated with women because we are socialized to be overly cautious and perfect. In her inspirational Ted talk “Teach girls bravery, not perfection”, Reshma Saujani describes the damage that is done to individual women and our society as a whole by socializing women to be overly cautious. She recounts an HP report that shows that men will apply for jobs if they meet 60% of the qualification criteria, but women will not apply unless they meet 100% of the qualification criteria. That difference creates significant gender differences in the career trajectories and incomes of men and women. In addition to limiting the career potential of women, this over cautiousness also limits their family’s earnings as well as the growth of our national economy. As Saujani states, “ our economy is being left behind on all the innovation and problems women would solve if they were socialized to be brave instead of socialized to be perfect”. This illustrates the deep connection between our personal development and collective development on a local, national, and global level. The world is significantly improved by you developing yourself and your abilities Click & Tweet! .
So how do we correct our national deficit in bravery? Reshma Saujani suggests that “we have to show [women] that they will be loved and accepted not for being perfect but for being courageous…. women who are brave and who will build a better world for themselves and for each and every one of us.” In response to Saujani’s call to action, I’ve decided to dedicate this week’s post to 12 courageous women who gave up the pressure to be perfect in pursuit of being their fully authentic selves in the world. Through their courageous choices, these women made the world a better place for themselves and for us all.
12 Women of Courage
Fannie Lou Hamer
It took courage for Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer to attempt to register to vote in rural Mississippi in 1962. Her act of bravery resulted in her being fired from her job as a sharecropper and her and her husband losing their home. Rather than see these negative results as a reason not to take a stand, Mrs. Hamer became even more resolute in her commitment to courageously pursuing freedom for herself and her people. Thank you Mrs. Hamer for your courage to stand up for justice regardless of the personal costs.
It took courage for Arianna Huffington, an ambitious entrepreneur and founder of The Huffington Post, to redefine success for herself. Although her personal definition of success conflicted with larger cultural expectations, Huffington reorganized her life according to her priorities. In her book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining success and creating a life of well-being, wisdom, and wonder, Huffington describes the risks involved in rejecting the culture of the rat race and prioritizing sleep, family, and generosity. Arianna Huffington courageously refused to sacrifice personal and family well-being in pursuit of an external definition of success. Thank you Arianna Huffington for your courage to form your own definition of success and for encouraging us to do this for ourselves.
It took courage for Jillian Mercado, a woman with muscular dystrophy and confined to a wheelchair, to submit her photo and letter for an open casting call to model for Diesel jeans. She risked rejection, ridicule and destroying her lifelong dream of working in the fashion industry. Jillian Mercado’s courageous act has created modeling opportunities for herself and for other individuals who aren’t typically including in fashion. Mercado states “I kind of took it on as a challenge to make sure that I represented all those girls that didn’t see themselves in the industry.” Thank you for Jillian Mercado for your courageous act to show your unique beauty and creating a more inclusive space for us to do the same.
It took courage for Robin Emmons to leave a 20-year career in corporate finance to nurture herself, her family, and her nation. After placing her brother in a mental health facility, she witnessed first hand the damage that is caused by regular consumption of unhealthy food. Emmons bravely dedicated herself to providing fresh produce to individuals and communities that have limited access to healthy food. Through her courageous act of founding Sow Much Good to address head on the systematic injustices creating food deserts and poor health outcomes in working poor and minority communities, Robin Emmons has provided thousands of people who are food insecure with the opportunity to have quality nutritious food to promote their health and well-being. Every time I eat a fresh delicious apple, I think of Robin and thank her for her courage to propose new strategies to solve our pressing social problems.
It took courage for Adrienne Rich to refuse the National Medal of Arts in 1997 because she disagreed with the politics of the White House administration. She risked public shaming and the end of her career as a beloved poet. Yet, Rich was brave enough to protect her personal integrity even at the loss of public support. Thank you Adrienne Rich for producing years of courageous social justice poetry and for showing those words in action in your own life.
It took tremendous courage for Cynthia Cooper to publicize the fraud of WorldCom, a company in which she was the Vice President. Her career and professional reputation was on the line and it would have been easier to ignore the fraud that she discovered in her internal audits. Yet, Copper’s bravery protected the financial security of many Americans who were being tricked by the telephone company’s misrepresentation of their financial status. Cooper received a public thank you for her bravery in 2002 when she was named by Time magazine as one of the “People of the Year”. Thank you Cynthia Cooper for demonstrating the public benefit of courage and honesty.
It took courage for J.K. Rowling to continue to pursuing her goal to be a novelist in spite of the numerous rejection letters she received. Had she not continued to risk rejection, we would not be able to enjoy the “Harry Potter” series. However, J.K. Rowling also did another courageous act of publicizing a recent rejection letter she received while writing under a pen name. She wanted to make her rejection public as a way to encourage other aspiring writers to bravely pursue their own paths. Thanks J.K. Rowling for courageously making your private failure public so we could be emboldened to take our own risks.
It took great courage for Toshonna Ross to commit to living after enduring years of physical and emotional abuse. In fact, the pain of her life was so great that she attempted suicide multiple times. Yet, Ross found the courage to commit to herself and to build a life for herself that was better than what she had experienced thus far. As Ross rebuilt her life, she courageously shared her experiences with other women in similar situations. The bravery that Toshonna Ross’ demonstrated in rebuilding her life and sharing her experience reminds us all that our tragedies can be triumphs if we face them courageously Click & Tweet! . Thank you Ms. Ross for your inspirational courage.
It took great courage for Zenzele Johnson to resign from a successful career as a youth educator. She was well loved by her students and served as a strong advocate from them, often going above and beyond the call of duty. Yet she knew that continuing to be in this position would lead to burnout and a compromise of her health. Johnson’s brave choice to prioritize self-care was a bold declaration of the new life she was creating. As Johnson states “Taking care of oneself is a true testament to growth and for that it will always be a step in the right direction, it will always be brave.” Thank you Zenzele Johnson for courageously valuing and protecting yourself and reminding us to make the same brave choice.
It took courage for 13-year old Mo’ne Davis to step into the national spotlight and dominate little league baseball, a sport that for decades has been thought of as male only. Numerous women who have courageously played “male” sports recount the taunts that come from players, opponents and fans. It takes tremendous fortitude to remain in such settings, let alone thrive. A significant part of Mo’ne’s success on and off the field is her unwavering confidence, even in the face of her obvious difference. In describing her dominance on the field, Mo’ne explains “I throw my curveball like Clayton Kershaw and my fastball like Mo’ne Davis.” Thank you Mo’ne for having the courage to be uniquely yourself in the national spotlight and inspiring us to do the same.
Me, Dr. Kesha Moore
It took courage for me to risk my professional status as a social science researcher and commit to engaging and helping women through life coaching. I risked losing the esteem of my colleagues and my financial stability, but the opportunity to have this knowledge applied and used to make people’s lives better was worth that risk. Now as I witness the growth that my choice has produced in myself and my clients, I am so glad I exercised my courage.
Although I may not know you personally, I know that you have tremendous value, a distinctive set of talents, and a unique perspective on the world. I realize that your uniqueness may not always be celebrated and it takes courage to be different. Your acts of developing yourself and your talents are valuable contributions to our world. I thank you for exercising the courage to be your authentic self and share that with our world.
Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the willingness to act in spite of the fear. As Arianna Huffington explains “Fearlessness is like a muscle. I know from my own life that the more I exercise it, the more natural it becomes to not let my fears run me.” Courage is a skill that can be learned like any other skill set Click & Tweet! . Courage is best learned in “small moments” when the stakes are less high. It takes courage to raise your hand in class and ask for clarification. It takes courage to voice an opinion different from those around you. It takes courage to speak of your dreams and ambitions that are outside of the norm. Practice taking these small risks daily and you will see your courage muscles grow Click & Tweet! .
Please share below your small and large acts of courage so that we all can be inspired to courageously be our unique selves.