What was your first big, bold, act of courage? For Nithya Ruff, Senior Director, Open Source Practice at Comcast, it was going to college. “I had grown up in Bangalore, India,” she recounts. “I had lived at home in the same city all my life, so going to Fargo, North Dakota, was a huge act of courage for me. The school system was new. The city was new. The weather was new. I came by myself and didn’t know anyone in Fargo. And that developed a lot of courage in me.”
What’s your career courage story? For most of us, it’s easy to recall that first big leap into the unknown: The time when there was something to do, create, or experience and we wanted it so badly that we broke out of our comfort zones, and away from familiar people and places. But when was the last time you experienced it?
Taking a Leap. At any stage of your career, it’s easier (though not necessarily safer) to stay comfortable. “It is so important to not play it safe if you want to grow and get noticed,” says Ruff in a webinar on courage for emerging leaders. “You must not let fear control you.”
Moving forward requires you to act courageously and determinedly. It’s risky to narrow your focus down to becoming a recognized expert. It takes a certain amount of pluck to declare your desire to take on more responsibility. It also requires courage to let go of your status as the hands-on expert, and lead instead. It takes audacity to challenge the status quo and be a change agent. And it takes courage to declare your belief in others, and invest in their development.
Are you overdue to step out of a career comfort zone and step into your greatness? Out of that first budding act of courage, Ruff’s career blossomed. Today, she is a respected leader of open-source marketing, strategy, and business models. Below, Ruff shares her advice.
Three Practices for Creating a Courage-Driven Career:
1. Expect “No,” and ask, anywayOne of the first career courage lessons Ruff learned was not to sit back and assume others know your career goals. “Whether it’s a promotion, travel, or the opportunity to speak at a conference, I’ve found you need to ask for what you want,” she says. “Frankly, the worst thing that can happen is someone will say, ‘No.’ Often, finds Ruff, people will simply say, “Yes, why not?” but you’ll never know unless you ask.
2. Start small, and stretch“Courage─like a muscle─is developed with practice,” says Ruff. “So start taking small risks. Start doing small things. And, soon, you’ll find that your courage is well-developed.” Look for ways to show courage at work daily and you’ll notice these opportunities everywhere. They may show up as a chance to give a small presentation at work, volunteer for a stretch assignment, or ask questions in a conference. “Start taking those risks and develop your courage muscle,” encourages Ruff.
3. Dissect your fears“Fear protects us in certain situations,” acknowledges Ruff. It alerts us to possible danger and prepares us to respond. But if fear is holding you back from a new career opportunity, Ruff has a favorite technique to recommend. “Dissect your fear,” she says. “Try to understand why you feel afraid in that situation. Once you’ve analyzed a fear, it loses its emotional hold on you, and you become much bolder.”
Practicing career courage can make the difference between an exciting and fulfilling career, and one where your greatest talents are underutilized. “All of us have fears,” says Ruff, pointing out that it’s the ability to act in spite of the fear that empowers us to take career-defining risks. While you can’t predict how things will turn out, you won’t regret taking the chance.
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