This post is part of our blog series, The A to Z of Being Babyproof, a celebration of the attitudes and behaviours it takes to balance career and family – because “babyproof” is not a destination, it’s a blueprint for having it all and making it work.
C is for Courage.
Be courageous! What is courage?
First comes self-belief – the positive mindset that enables you to have faith in your own talents and potential and to formulate audacious goals and plans for your future. But acting on your ambitions requires a different attribute – one that is arguably more important for your ultimate success; and that’s courage. Courage is that intangible quality that can help you realise your inner dreams. This definition by executive coach Narayan Kamath really nails it:
‘Courage is the secret sauce that allows you to act despite your fears.’
The human brain craves routine and certainty. Uncertainty about your environment, outcomes or consequences tends to generate feelings of fear and activates the primitive part of your brain into a ‘fight or flight’ response. This means that your instinct when faced with new challenges or situations is often to avoid or procrastinate. How can you be confident of success if you’ve never tried something before?
That’s where being courageous comes into play. Being courageous allows you to face your fears and do all those new things that you are afraid to do. It allows you to attempt something despite having no proof of your ability to succeed – and to risk failure or appearing foolish if you make a mistake. Being courageous allows you to be the first or only person to try something – to forge new paths and to stand out from the crowd. Only by being courageous at the outset can you gradually hone your skills and experience to develop the true confidence you will need to succeed in your career and family life.
But why do you need to be courageous to be babyproof? Here’s why.
- Going against the grain. Returning to a top-flight career after having a baby, takes courage. You may face resistance from family or friends who feel you should be staying at home with your child or you might be exposed to negative media about working mothers. You need to be courageous to stay true to your own values and your own ambitions and not be swayed by those of others, however big the tide of negative opinion may seem.
- Being the first or only person in your workplace to do it. We humans are a social species – we look to our peers for signals as to how to behave and what to do. Being the first to do something is often an uncomfortable feeling. If other people aren’t doing it, it may seem that it shouldn’t or can’t be done, but how will you know if you don’t even try? If this seems daunting, that’s where courage comes in. Be courageous! If no-one in your office has done it – take inspiration from role models and mentors further afield and give it your best shot. Somebody has to be the first. Why not you?
- Standing up for yourself in a company culture. Before you have children, it may be that you feel you have to embrace a long-hours, hard-working culture to get on in a highly competitive environment. Once you become a parent, you will need to have boundaries so that you can successfully balance your career and family responsibilities. Have courage to leave on time when you have completed your work. It’s not about ‘keeping up appearances’ it’s about delivering value. Be confident in your abilities and your unique value to the company and this will give you the courage to stand up for yourself.
- Requesting flexible working. Again – in a competitive corporate atmosphere, you may feel afraid to request flexible working for fear of being turned down, or being seen in a negative light. But what if flexible working is what you need to make career and family work? Rather than giving up at the first hurdle, or resigning yourself to the fact that it can’t be done, be courageous! Ask for what you want. Take comfort in the fact that you are legally entitled to request flexible working without fear of redress and then focus on building an irresistible case for flexibility. Interact in online flexible working networking communities – support will help you find the strength you need.
- Jumping into the unknown. Going back to work after maternity leave feels a bit like booking a ticket on the first passenger flight to the moon. You have no idea what to expect – whether it can actually work, or whether you will ever manage to reach your destination – the ideal work-life balance situation. The temptation, then, when dealing with uncertainty is to stick with the status quo – to carry on doing what you know rather than risk doing what you don’t know. You will need to be courageous to take those risks – but remind yourself that only by taking risks can you reap the biggest rewards.
- Parenting! Having children may be a biological imperative for many, but biology is just the start. Raising a child from a totally dependent baby into a happy, healthy and independent adult requires enormous reserves of strength, courage and determination – even without a top-flight career running alongside. Again – the things that require the greatest courage, provide the richest rewards. Remember that courage is a transferrable skill – use the courage you gain from parenting to give you strength to achieve your career goals.
Caroline Flanagan is a Keynote Speaker, Babyproof Coach and Author of Babyproof Your Career, The Secret to Balancing Work and Family so you can Enjoy It All. Caroline believes passionately in the dream of having it all, and founded Babyproof Your Life to train and prepare ambitious career women for the marathon of working parenthood so they can find their own way to #enjoyitall and #makeitwork. You can reach Caroline at email@example.com