There are portions of Brown’s talks that I think need more fleshing out, but there is one key component she addresses that I think is woefully misunderstood in the world of business and life in general: You are going to fail. It is a guarantee, an absolute that you are going to suffer startling setbacks, find yourself heartbroken, shed tears, and be outraged at loss no matter what kind of loss you have experienced.
When it comes to discussing loss as Brown articulates it, we often think of the loss of a loved one who passes away and how that provides us with a moment to show that we are vulnerable by pointing out our heartbreak. Major successes and accomplishments often come to those who take risks. For every person who takes a risk, there are several others who take risks and fail.
Many years ago, I worked with an IT department looking over a complex software installation that had to work globally. On every continent, we had an installation. The problem? The software was written in such an old format that it could not run on modern PCs, and the only real way to get at it was through an older version of OS/2.
This was a nightmare. As much of a nightmare as it was, there was terror in the idea of even trying to upgrade the software. If we did it and we couldn’t figure out the conversion, then we could be stuck with two different systems. This was the textbook idea of a vulnerability. If you try to resolve the problem and fail, you put the company at risk. Trying to keep the system running in place and time was a set of short-term fixes, constantly maintained with the knowledge that eventually, it would run out.
As leadership came in, the idea was made clear: “Take risks! Be bold! We can be the next generation!” This was followed up with a team meeting that said: “If anything you do results in any downtime, you are not going to be employed.”
Well, okay. Again, I have to say: Failure is baked in to everything you do at some point in your life. Knowing that you will take risks that may not work out can be exceptionally scary.
Now, I want you to look around at the nation, our elected officials, and the time in which we live. We do not get to choose the time we live in, the time we live in chooses us. When we accept that, we can begin to change the outcome.
While management was scared of patching or virtualizing OS/2, or even trying to move away from it, try to imagine the fear that many have around the future of our country right now. It is easy to just walk away and say: Well, it’s too scary to confront the radical Republicans, or even people in our own party. This is where we misunderstand courage.
I’ve read the fantastic diaries, tweet replies, and editorials about how out of place it is to slam a military member for lacking courage compared to Sen. Kyrsten Sinema. What Sinema did wasn’t courageous, because at no point did she put herself at risk. Like the engineers I knew who were afraid to alter OS/2, she hung back and refused to acknowledge that people should be scared of what was going on, to be fair to her constituents and to take a risk. Her fellow member in the senate, Mark Kelly, was able to take that risk.
This is vulnerability: opening yourself up to tough calls that can cause you harm. Sinema couldn’t do it. She was so afraid of being vulnerable that she hid away and took as a prime goal not giving Republicans potential future material against her in an election, assuming that her reelection is in a presidential year, and she’s afraid of Republican voters that year. Well, news to the senator: Those voters will never vote for you. Period. They will chose a real Republican over a fake one every time.
Can you be courageous if you aren’t challenged to overcome something and really put yourself on the line? Can you find courage if there isn’t much at risk? No. You can’t do it. You have to put things at risk and take a chance, and you do it because it is the right thing. If only a certain senator from Arizona realized that truth.