What Would You Do If You Were Not Afraid?

This post is the third of three in a "mini series" about Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In for my Consumer Behavior class. To learn more about why I chose this topic, read my post "Why Sheryl Sandberg Is My Homegirl". Since I am being graded on this, I will be including citations from Lean In as well as referencing consumer behavior concepts from my textbook.

Read the first post in the series: "You Say Bossy, I Say HBIC".
Read the second post in the series: "The Pregnancy Problem".


What are you afraid of?

I don't mean being afraid of the dark or being afraid of heights.

Sheryl Sandberg concludes the first chapter of her book Lean In by asking: "What would you do if you were not afraid?" And then she urges: "Go do it" (Sandberg).

The first thing that came to mind was that if I wasn't afraid of eight-legged critters I would start killing spiders on my own instead of screaming bloody murder. I know that's not what Sheryl was referring to, but I do wish I was able to kill spiders on my own.

Sheryl was aiming for something a bit more meaningful. In the first chapter, she discusses how society shapes the way we believe we should behave or present ourselves and often ends up dictating how we live our lives: what we think we should do, what we should say, how we should dress, and the list goes on.

When I began reading Sheryl's book at the start of the summer, I was just a few weeks into my internship at JPMorgan. The program had taken the time to arrange for members of senior leadership to come speak with our class of 400 interns. One of these senior speakers was Paul Compton, the Chief Administrative Officer of JPMorgan. I'd been able to snag a seat in the main conference room to see him speak. Needless to say I was thrilled.

This is where Sheryl comes in.

When I asked myself, "What would I do if I were not afraid?", I decided that baby steps were the best way to go. It wasn't anything big, but something I have always been afraid of is asking questions in front of a crowd. I always seem to convince myself that my questions are in fact dumb questions. In a way, this is a form of personal uncertainty avoidance on my part as I am attempting to avoid taking a risk and possibly dealing with an unknown outcome (Babin, 185).

I have no problem speaking in front of large groups of people, but for some reason when I need to put together a coherent question, things just don't work out. Maybe it seems silly, but for this reason I always talked myself out of asking questions in front of big crowds of people. 

I decided that I was going to overcome this fear and be that person to ask a question.

And I was. I was 100% that obnoxious intern whose hand shot up as soon as the floor opened for questions. Insert eye roll here (I won't take offense).

After the senior speaker session, I decided to do something else that I was afraid of (and had honestly been advised against). I emailed the JPMorgan Chief Administrative Officer a thank you email. Obviously, being an intern all I expected was for his assistant to sweep it off into the archive bin.

However, about an hour later I received a new email, with the name Paul Compton on it.

It wasn't an automatic responder. It wasn't his assistant telling me that I shouldn't be emailing senior management. It was a paragraph from the JPMorgan CAO himself, expressing that he was glad someone had enjoyed his session and he even shared a few words of advice for my summer at JPMorgan. I had received a personal email from the JPMorgan CAO. By sending that email, Mr. Compton had broken out of a role expectation often set forth on interns. Just because you are an intern does not mean that senior management will completely ignore you (Babin, 181).

If I learned anything working in the world of finance, it's that sometimes a big risk has a big payoff. It doesn't matter that Paul Compton isn't actually going to remember me. What I got out of that experience was so much more: I gained a newfound confidence.

I've always been an ambitious person. I never settle for less and never give less than my best. But now, I continually ask myself, "What would I do if I were not afraid?"


I asked myself, which job offer was I the most afraid of? That's the one I picked.


Because if you're not a bit afraid, you aren't going to grow as a person. If you're afraid, it means you are going to come out of the other side a better person. Sheryl Sandberg is officially the new "little voice in my head."

Entering the new school year, I once again asked myself, "What would I do with this year if I were not afraid?" For those of you who know me, you're probably aware that I just accepted a full-time job offer. When narrowing down my choices, I asked myself, which job offer was I the most afraid of? Which one would stretch my abilities and my fears to the limit? That's the offer I picked. Because I know my fears are going to challenge me and make me an even better, even more successful person one day.

So ask yourself, what would you do if you were not afraid? Go do it.