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Filtering by Category: Power

How to Cope with Stress, Anger During this Political Season

Ana Polanco

Last week I tried to write this story about empathy for the opposing party and I couldn’t. I was feeling overly anxious and stressed about the US Presidential Elections and the "No" Vote on Colombia's plebiscite to approve the current version of the peace accords. 


With less than 30 days in the national presidential debate, I am feeling, tired, angry, charged, stressed, and like this entire political season is a charade. I also felt like it was hard to disconnect from the political chatter because so many of my values and who I want the country to be is on the line.  I imagine many of you also feel this way and are feeling burned out. 

From race, culture and police relations, immigration reform to sexual assault, women’s bodies and the economy, I feel totally under attack.  Anger and frustration are healthy emotions and we should find healthy ways to express them. 

When I am in this type of angry position, it’s hard for me to cultivate empathy immediately, see the other side and be my best self. Many of you may also feel this stress or anger.  So is it realistic for you to cultivate empathy in this political season?

The truth is that it’s different for everyone. Everyone has different levels of tolerance based on their lived experiences and different abilities to let go of anger. However, cultivating empathy and compassion is truly important, especially when the stakes are high and the issues are charged.

Empathy allows us to step in someone else’s shoes and try to understand the other person's condition and emotions from their perspective. Empathy is a necessary element to understanding immigration reform, sexual assault and race relations. If we cannot put ourselves in the shoes of vulnerable communities, it can be extremely difficult to build empathy for others and even harder to find consensus.

So how do we cultivate empathy in extreme situations like this political debate?


Some conversations and actions are more manageable than others. For me an overload of social media and news, causes me to feel anxious and unsafe. So I have to draw a line in the sand every day for myself to prevent the overload and anxiety from seeping into my own work and relationships with others. After all to make culture shifting changes in my consulting work, I have to work with people all across the political spectrum, so keeping balance is key to my own professional success. For others, attending rallies, unfriending people on social media and not engaging family members in political conversations can be part of the making choices around your line of engagement.  


A friend of mine was having a conversation with two male family members who referred to 1996 Miss Universe Alicia Machado as “the housekeeping.”  She quickly responded by telling them how disrespectful it was to refer to women this way, asking them to consider how they would feel if this were their own daughters. This silenced her family members instantly. As women we have an opportunity to push back on conversations that sexually demean other women. It’s never a good idea to pit women against women especially when sexual assault is at stake no matter what party you are affiliated with.

And If you are a survivor, silence may feel safer than speaking out. I urge you to do what’s right for you. This is also true for people of color who experience other forms of violence (poverty, microaggressions, racism) on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes silence feels safer especially when you are just not sure what to do in awkward situations and when passive aggressive behavior is at play.  Being in your power means owning your choices whatever they are. 


This week I tried to step into Donald Trump’s shoes. I was unsuccessful at first, wondering what would cause someone to have so much hate for others. I then forced myself to imagine Donald as a small child. Children do not know sexual assault, they do not hate other people, they do not suffer from the many social ills we suffer from as adults. Imagining him as a child, allowed empathy to flow through me. I began thinking about what his parents must have been like, his role models, his childhood. This helped me see how sad and lonely it must have been and is to be Donald Trump. While it doesn’t excuse his behavior it does make me wonder about the millions of followers out there, living lonely and scared lives. In some ways we, as a country, are also responsible for engaging them, educating them, making sure they have the tools to keep up with the new millennium. 

Consider how difficult it must be to live in isolation and the amount of work we still have to do to educate and heal communities around race, gender and sexual orientation.  Speaking to opposing sides from a place of empathy, allows us to ask empowering questions to people on opposite sides of an isle and to discover who they are and how they came to have certain beliefs. 


Most failed negotiations and debates in business and politics are because people are focused on strategy and outcome instead of purpose, values and relationships. Focusing on strategy makes conversations small. For example, I have a strategy and I want you to adapt it to fix the problem we are facing. That leaves a limited number of solutions for the opposing party to take. Instead take a wider approach and talk about the impact a situation is having on you -- How you feel, what’s important to you, what your deepest concerns are. Then leave space for others to share the impact the problem is having on them.  Purpose and values will help you know who you are, who the other person is and what’s important to them – creating more avenues and possible strategies for mutual success.


We all have different forms of power and privilege that are operating all the time – education level, profession, income, race, age, gender, migration status, sexual orientation, disability and many others. During this political season, manage that power and privilege, which is always acting and giving or taking away your ability to exert power and influence over any situation. Consider if your family member said something you didn't agree with, would you respond to them the same way you respond to either political candidate?

Our relationships as a country are at stake. A taxi drive said to me, let's vote the people I don't agree with off to an island. No -- that is dictatorial and completely un-American value. We can heal relationships and double down resources and open conversations to those areas where voters have different opinions or are still feeling the economic crisis.  If we don't open lines of communication between different communities, we will find ourselves facing bigger problems of home grown terrorists and breaks in race relations -which are already happening.

In the end, the choice of how you want to walk in the world is yours. They key is to lead from a place of choice as often as possible.

Your turn: How are you coping with the political season? Is it working? What else might you do to cope with stress?

P.S. Enjoyed this post? Help us spread the love by sharing it, liking it, tweeting it, or forwarding it to your network.

Women in Politics: What Does Success Mean to You?

Librada Estrada

Si Tu Quieres is excited to highlight an incredible Latina that has been very active in the world of politics for 20 years and is doing great work to develop others who desire to impact and transform their communities and organizations—Patricia Campos-Medina.

Patricia Campos-Medina is a leadership development professional with the Union Leadership Institute at Cornell University. She is currently the President of Latinas United for Political Empowerment (LUPE PAC) in NJ, and a founding Board Member for PODER PAC, a national political action committee by Latinas for Latinas.  She served as political and legislative director for several unions including UNITE, UNITEHERE and SEIU.  She also worked as a campaign consultant in many local, state and federal political campaigns including US Rep. Bill Pascrell, Mayor Cory Booker and Senator Cory Booker. In 2008, she served as part of the Transition Team for President Barack Obama.  She was born in El Salvador and immigrated to the USA at the age of 14 years old and now resides in NJ. You can follow her on Twitter at @pcamposmedina or e-mail her at

It has been quite a year of presidential politics already.  And as the attacks on Hillary’s record continues, I cannot help but think about the challenges that women who work in politics face daily as they attempt to be engaged and win on their own terms.  Not all women might like Hillary, or might connect with her like some of us do, but what her experiences reveal is that in politics, acting like a man can be an “asset and a curse.”  How we learn to navigate this duality is what helps us stay in the game and succeed on our own terms.

I have been immersed in Democratic and labor politics for the majority of 20 years of my professional life.  I have run labor political programs and have been part of teams that run national presidential campaigns, local mayoral and city council campaigns.  I worked at the highest levels of policy making in Congress, and developed sharp elbows getting resolutions passed at the local city councils in cities across the United States.  I have also been in the backroom cutting deals, and I have been in the streets protesting those who are behind closed doors making those deals.  Through all of these experiences, I accomplished a lot but I have also gotten burned and deflated, been excluded and vilified, and I have been told at times that if only I knew how the game is played, I could have more power and influence.

Learning the Game

So, what is the game?  And what does success in politics looks like for women?  I don’t think there is one easy answer for either question, but let’s start by stating the fact that being successful in politics is not necessarily a measure of your level of financial success or your access to power.  There are some women in politics that have both and yet they still feel as outsiders, constantly fighting for recognition for their contributions.  

Learning to negotiate for your interest and for your agenda is a crucial component of learning the game, but the most important one is your ability to build alliances and make those alliances help you build a record of accomplishments.  You also need thick skin to survive the ride and to accept that the qualities that help men be recognized as leaders, do not automatically work for women.  

Why? Because there is a double standard in politics. Qualities that are seen as positive in men, such as confidence and aggressiveness, are seen as negative in women.  Hence, in order to use those qualities to our advantage, we must master the complex art of duality; you must be self-assured and at the same time intentionally learn to transform your confidence into determination and purpose.

So what is the first step in achieving success in politics?  It starts with having a clear purpose.

Your Purpose for Politics

If your goal is to have a future in politics then you must have a plan and a strategy, and be clear about why you are here, in the game.  Why do you want to get into politics?  Is it to build power for yourself?  For your community?  Or is it to accomplish a policy change you care deeply about? 

There is nothing wrong with wanting influence and power.  Men want that all the time and no one vilifies them for it.  But you must know that the stakes are higher for you. If you are a woman, more often than not, you don’t have a “Godfather” to show you the ropes.  You must negotiate the rules on your own and along the way you must learn to develop men and women as allies who will take an interest in your success. (Look for my next piece on cultivating male allies.)

Politics is a Male-Dominated Field

Once you have defined your purpose, you must understand that politics is a male dominated field with access to the inner circle granted more easily to those who are close to money and power.  For Latina women, those two access points are limited given that most of the time we have neither.  We come to politics from the outside, as activists trying to break down the walls and demanding power by mobilizing our community. 

I came to politics as a union/community organizer, someone with a demand.  I believed, and still do, that politics is a tool in our arsenal to fight economic inequality and to have a voice in the future of our country.  Because I was a good organizer, I was recruited to lead union members political activities and to convince them to contribute their hard earned money to politics.  I had people power and that could not be ignored.

But even with people power, I still had to battle the sexism of politics.  I am after all, an immigrant woman with a thick accent. Even with two Ivy League degrees, I had to prove constantly that I didn’t get the job because someone did me a favor.  In my 20s and 30s, I sometimes chose to brush off sexual advances, ignore sexist jokes, and hold my feelings close to my chest so I wouldn’t be labeled too sensitive and or irrational. 

My constant battle was always to be able to cultivate professional relationships with powerful men that were based on my union’s agenda, my campaign skills and my intellect.  I played the game and while I survived and thrived, I always felt a sense that maybe if I had been a man, I would have gotten more done.  Despite this feeling, though, deep in my soul I always knew I had made the best of every situation.

When I entered my late 30’s and 40s, I decided to take a leap of faith and try something new.  I stepped aside from my union political career to have a family, build my own consulting practice and to focus on helping union members become effective leaders.  Politics is a passion for me so I am still engaged in it as an advisor to campaigns and to other Latina women trying to make a mark in politics.

So, if you are a Latina who loves politics, a Latina who wants to run for office or just a political activist who wants to shake up the status quo, I offer the following tips based on what I have learned in the last 20 years of political and campaign work:

  1. Be clear about why you are in the game and be proud of it: You want to run for office? Awesome. Own it.  Learn from the best political candidates and develop a strategy for yourself so that you can run your own campaign. 
  2. Raise your own money: But if you want to run for office, then learn how to raise your own money so that you can be independent and drive your own agenda.  My grandfather, Papita Chema always said, “el que te da el dinero, te controla,” or “whoever gives you the money, controls you.” So, raise your own money. 
  3. Identify your tribe: You want to change the world?  Fix the educational system in your district?  Great causes.  Organize your tios and tias and all your cousins, high school, college friends and your fellow church parishioners. They have to be your first round of volunteers and supporters who help you both with money and by getting others to join your cause.  Than, map out your next round of supporters based on your agenda and your interest.  You grow as a leader when your base of supporters keeps expanding.
  4. Be prepared and always be willing to learn something new: Learn everything you need to know about your issue(s) and be twice as prepared than the men in the room.  And if you don’t know something, listen to what people are saying. Show empathy but don’t fake it.  Be honest that you are not an expert and that you will research the issue and come back with answers.  Faking it or lying about knowing something doesn’t work for women.  We must find the balance between being knowledgeable and not acting like “know it all’s.” 
  5. Be aggressive on defining your expectations to others: You want to learn a new skill in a campaign?  Ask for the job.  Be confident that you will learn it and be clear that you will not get stuck doing the same thing over and over again.  Even if you start at the bottom, by the end of a campaign, you should be in charge of something.  Don’t just hang around waiting to be recognized for your hard work.  If you are a political consultant, find out what other consultants are getting paid for the same type of work.  You have a skill they need so don’t allow them to undervalue your work.   
  6. Open doors for others: If you are a Latina candidate or a campaign consultant, identify young Latina/o operatives and put them to work on your campaign.  Build a cadre of young activist so you can tap their skills later and build your own network.  Have you ever noticed most campaigns always look like 20s something young male college kids? Well, eventually those young male kids become the top earning campaign consultants.  We must build our own pipeline of campaign operatives who are women. 
  7. Empower other women:  Be intentional about having other women voices and experiences around you.  Make them part of your inner circle and assign them key roles on your campaign that will build their skills set.  And if you are a staffer or consultant, use the “shine theory” to build other women allies; if a woman has a great idea in a meeting, support it and make a point to give her credit for it.  This practice denies men the opportunity to ignore it and later claim it as their own.  Don’t be afraid to let other women shine. By building others up, we also build ourselves up as authentic leaders.
  8. Trust your instincts: Oprah talks about how women most valuable asset is our “gut feeling,” our instinct.  There is something innate that makes us feel when something is not good for us. We feel it in our gut or that place right above the top of your stomach that tingles when you are not sure about something. When that happens, don’t ignore it.  If you are being pushed to make a decision that doesn’t feel right, to hire someone you know won’t work out, or you are being triggered by aggressive behavior, walk away.

I have failed some times to listen to my gut instinct and it has gotten me into some bad situations.  But if you make a mistake, don’t be so hard on yourself.  My biggest learning moments have come from situations that went south—either because I lost my composure or because I made the wrong decision.  My test for surviving such moments has always been staying true to myself, living up to my values, and knowing that my integrity was never compromised.

At the end of the day, politics is like any other career. If you love it, you will figure out a way to be good at it.  And like any other job, in order to be successful, you must have a purpose and a strategy to get to the finish line.  Give yourself benchmarks to meet and goals to reach. 

Today I am still in the game cultivating leaders as a trainer and adviser, helping other women and labor leaders discover their own power so they can become authentic leaders with the courage to transform our society.  I have accomplished more than I ever imagined I would as a girl growing up in El Salvador.  And as I continue in my path to build a better world for my children, I keep Winston Churchill’s words as a mantra; 

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal.  It is the courage to continue that counts.”

So as you find your path, I urge you to have the courage to be authentic, to challenge the status quo, to build other women up and to keep pushing until you get to your final destination.

Your turn: How do you try to affect change in your community?  How do you define success in your life?

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Dance To Your Own Beat: Putting Your Life’s Passion into Practice

Librada Estrada

We continue our commitment of highlighting Latinas who are transforming their lives by living in choice. 

Dance is at the heart of Amanda Cardona’s life. With over 20 years of professional experience, Amanda combines dance with teaching, travel, and digital marketing to share her calling with others. When she isn't leading or taking a class, putting on a show or recording videos to share her globetrotting adventures, you can find her working on some fancy footwork. To see some of her performances or to get in touch with her, check out her YouTube Channel at Amanda Cardona Dance or follow her on Twitter @AmandaCDance.

A fan whirs in the distance, a bell whistles “toot toot”, sneakers crunch across gravel… in an instant, my foot is tapping, my head is bopping and I spin a little twirl, when I realize that the store employee is smirking at me.  Instantaneous blush, a shrug of the shoulders, a quick thank you and out the door I go as I think to myself, yep, I’m a dancer people.  I hear music in everything and that in turn, inspires me to move, to create, to dance….

A Dancer is Born

Dance is simply my life force.  It’s like the air I breathe, constant and steady.  It’s my happiness when I’m down, my inspiration when I’m unmotivated, and my jolt of energy when there is no caffeine around.  

I’ve been lucky enough to have dance in my life since the age of 3 when I was a bratty kid refusing to actually participate in the dance classes my mom dragged me to.  Little did she know then that I was quietly refusing to try it until I knew I could do it well.  Week by week I would sit there and WATCH the class for an hour; until the fateful day when, without any prodding or threats, I mean gentle supplications, I stood up and executed the entire month’s routine perfectly.  And so, a dancer was born.

A Rude Awakening

Now, on the flip side, I grew up during a time when “dance” wasn’t seen as a viable career path, there weren’t as many options available as there are these days and quite simply, I didn’t have the “dancer” body type that was necessary to pursue dance in any form other than a hobby.  For example, in my 20s, when I wanted to get into Latin dance on a more professional level, I thought, “I’m Latin, I’ve got flavor, this should be a shoo-in!” Uh no, I was a served a plate of rude awakening.  

I am a relatively tall and pretty curvaceous Latina that is often not accepted by certain groups, not given the opportunity to perform on a stage, regardless of my two decades of training and experience. These experiences have at times shaken my confidence.  But I keep getting up and putting myself out there.

A Physical Art Form

Those situations haven’t completely disappeared. Dance is a physical art form, which by design places your body under the magnifying lens for inspection, evaluation and judgment (especially at its highest levels). The minute I step on a dance floor for a warm up dance, especially where I don’t know anyone and vice versa, I can feel them making a judgment that about me. It usually goes something like this… “Hmmm, new person.  Don’t know what level she is.  She’s a bit tall, she’s “thick”, and I don’t know if she’s heavy on her feet.” This then translates to a dance where you’re “tested” or “evaluated” on your skill level.  One turn, good she kept her balance.  She reacts quickly and moves quickly and hence the door is opened to a more “advanced” dance. 

I actually advocate this type of “warm up” dance.  You should begin slowly because you don’t know the other person’s skill level, not because of their size or shape. Many people equate size and skill. It can be a bit disheartening when you take those first steps, especially to a song that you just want to JAM out to!

Making It Work For Me

But even in those dark moments, when the negative voices are chirping incessantly, needling in the back of my mind, I also had another voice that I thankfully pay more attention to that reminds me, “Yeah, yeah, so what.  You love to dance, so make it work for you.” And that’s just what I’ve done, made it work for me. If you have ever even had even the slightest thought of giving dance a try, do it and most importantly make it work for you. 

Easier said than done?  True but the work and overcoming those nagging voices is what makes it worth it. Here are some examples from my personal experience and how I have made it work:

  • I go see a dance show.  I’m inspired and melancholic at the same time.  Inspired by the sheer skill of the performers, melancholic as I compare my own skill level.  Solution:  Change my thinking. Reflect on what I have done and what I can do. Translate the positive thoughts into action- what kinds of dance can I do, what exercises can I do to get stronger, more agile, and more flexible and get moving! 
  • I would go out to dance, but wasn’t being asked to dance.  Solution: I ask others to dance.
  • I went out with girlfriends to dance, amazing songs would come on and perhaps everyone was already dancing.  Solution: I learned how to do the leaders role (and damn well if I say so myself).  I know I was doing something right when my dance card filled up, except I was leading!
  • I wanted to perform, but couldn’t find a partner. Solution: I joined forces with other women and created an all-female dance company.
  • I wanted to travel the world teaching & dancing but wasn’t “well-known”.  Solution: Start out with cold-calls.  Offer to be part of an event without pay or for barter, then show & prove what I can do. 

Does it require work? Absolutely! Is it worth the time & investment? Undoubtedly! With each obstacle and the resolution that follows, I changed my attitude and my reality. I make it work for me and in return I fall deeply in love with dance over and over again.

Promoting Dance

Why am I such a cheerleader for the art of dance?  Let’s take a look from the outside in.  

Physically speaking, dance can do wonders for your coordination, mobility, endurance and stamina, muscle tone and fitness.  Who doesn’t want to look and feel better in their own skin!  The physical exertion also produces endorphins, which in turn leaves you feeling happy.  

Dance can be mentally and emotionally stimulating as well.  It allows you the freedom to move, occupy your space and be comfortable with yourself and the movement you can create.  It allows you to leave all the nonsense, obligations and minutiae of daily life at the door- just check it at the door- and move.  You’d be amazed at where your mind can go when you allow yourself that freedom.  When you combine all these elements together; physical, emotional, mental health- it’s a recipe for overall well being.  

Dance has a special added bonus.  Many dance styles are social, meaning they create the opportunity for a person to socialize, to get to know people who share a similar interest.  Stick with it long enough, and before you know it, you’ll find you have a new “family”.

Your dance family looks for you when you’ve missed class, is ready to give suggestions and recommendations when you’re taking the plunge into buying dance shoes, and welcomes you with a smile when you walk through the door.  

For me, dance has given me so many individual benefits and a feeling of home no matter where in the world I go.

Dance To Your Own Beat

Everything begins and ends with… YOU.  We live in a world full of structure and even confinement.  There will always be some obstacle trying to block you from your passion, interest or goal.  Sometimes those external factors will play a role in what you are able to achieve or accomplish and the key that will always influence how far you get is YOU and YOUR attitude. 

You can let others dictate your worth or value or you can MAKE IT WORK FOR YOU.  We have to be our own cheerleaders, because only you hold the key to unlocking your potential.  Instead of focusing on the limitations, exercise your brain and your body and discover how you can work with what you have been given.  Challenge the boundaries and perhaps stretch them a bit.  Soon enough, you just may find yourself “dancing” to a masterpiece of your own design.

Your turn: How are you honoring your passion?

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Co-powering: A Smart Communication Strategy for a New Business Age

Ana Polanco

20140628_181900Five years ago, I had the honor of receiving training from the Rockwood Leadership Institute. Rockwood is a community of coaches and consultants who support leaders who are searching for purpose, facing burnout, in transition or looking to take a leap to more authentic forms of leadership. When I came to Rockwood I was mostly feeling unfulfilled and burned out. The social justice movement that I was a part of was struggling to evolve.

Up until that point in my professional career, most of the training and experience I had received and utilized was in a hierarchical setting. You had to respect the hierarchy and the traditional rules of the labor movement in order to advance. You had to pay your dues to advance and at the same time sink or swim learning the work. This was considered the norm.

This often left young leaders and people of color disillusioned. A wave of Generation X and Y leaders ultimately left the labor movement because of this hierarchical system to find or create other forms of leadership and engagement that offered other opportunities to advance worker rights.

As I look back at the changes in the economy, technology and needs of the workforce, I realize we are living in a system that doesn’t match today’s worker values or society’s demands. Workers and leaders were thinking about power in different terms. Instead of building power for myself and then making space for the next person, I wanted to bring that person with me. I wanted us to discover how to power up and energize our work together.

While I was at Rockwood, I came across “co-powerment,” a term coined by Author and Leadership Coach Roberto Vargas.  Roberto defines co-powerment as “communication that seeks to lift the confidence, energy and agency of another person, self, and the relationship. It is lifting the power of self and others.”

Co-powerment has been instrumental in the way I look at the world and how I lead and build partnerships. In politics I was trained to demonstrate power over others as part of our method of moving companies to pay attention to the needs of workers.  Power over others can move your allies and adversaries in your favor but it has limits.  In politics you never know when power will shift. At some point the people you are looking to relate to may stop responding to that way of communication.

Power with has unlimited possibilities. It gives you the opportunity to think through how to grow your collaboration with the people around you. It is focused on getting to know each other, recognizing the non-verbal communications that make up close to 70% of what we communicate to the people around us. It also creates realistic expectations for the work.

If you are going to create or revive a partnership with someone, you have to consider your values. Things much deeper than your position on the affordable health care act. What is the underlying value below that policy and why do you hold it?

Asking those types of questions helps us to see each other as human beings and removes assumptions that we all think and feel the same way about our work.

There are three keys to co-powering that I have found very useful:

Ask Questions about the Obvious. When you ask questions about the things you have in common with someone you can deepen the relationship to a new level. For example: while my friend and I may both like chocolate, we may like it for different reasons and enjoy it in different ways. Understanding those details helps deepen our friendship. The same is true in business. If two department heads favor having staff input on a department restructure, the reasons may be radically different. Getting to know why we are alike in outcome can help us strengthen our values, purpose and the processes we use to create change.

Be Brutally Honest with Kindness. I can’t tell you how many times I have told colleagues or watched colleagues tell me they were going to fulfill their share of project when you really weren’t on board. Not being on board can mean many things. It’s important to get specific about the details and help your coworkers understand the challenges. Sometimes we lie thinking that it will save the relationship with another manager to avoid dealing with the problem at hand. The challenge with lying about the problem, is that over time it festers and will ultimately show up in the work and how your teams treat each other. It’s better to find a kind way of being clear about the challenge ahead. Honesty helps teams problem solve and results in a better work product.

Be Open to Other People’s Ideas. Co-powering is all about discovering new ways of improving the outcome. It’s also about letting everyone shine. When a team comes together to solve a problem, it makes for better results. When we win everyone wins, but when we fail, everyone is looking to blame one person or team. The truth is that if we fail, we all fail, because we all contributed to the work. Find ways of making space for new solutions to old problems. The results will be a stronger and more effective outcome to your work. You’ll also have gained the respect of your colleagues and their staff.

Your turn: In the comment section below, share how you co-power with others.

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What’s so bad about the “F” word?

Librada Estrada

Failure and SuccessNobody likes to have it attached to him or her and we don’t want our project to be labeled as such. In some instances it may cause you to freeze. We dislike the word so much that we spend most of our time avoiding it like the plague—FAILURE! But is it really that bad of a word? On the surface, folks hear it or say it and automatically think negative connotations. I used to think this way as well until I realized that I was not only seeing it as a dirty word but also thinking in absolutes and focusing on it’s definition of lack of success or insufficient.

I would drive myself nuts, and those around me, by trying to think of all the things that could potentially go wrong on a project and prepare for them. Why? Because I did not want others to point out if I had fallen short or if the product/program was not well implemented.

I would create unrealistic expectations for myself that I would spend so much time on the planning that I would postpone the implementing; I would experience analysis paralysis. This caused a lot of anxiety for me.

I would come across as dictatorial and rigid. Rather than keeping the big picture in mind, I would be narrow-minded and fixate on the little things. Sometimes I would be perceived as not being a team player since I would not engage others or ask for help because I feared being seen as not knowing what I was doing. Other times I would come across as not being interested, particularly when I would not speak up in meetings because I was worried that my ideas or questions were not fully formed.

The story that I bought into was that I was preparing, planning and being thoughtful. In reality I was trying to hide being ill informed or avoiding things like having to be in front of others and being open to judgment. I made up a story that if flaws did not come up, I could stay under the radar and not draw attention to myself.

I had also written a script in my head that I could not afford mistakes because of being Latina. I put more pressure on myself to come across as perfect, particularly if I was the only woman, the only Latina or the only person of color on a project or in a meeting. I decided that I needed to present myself well not just for me but for other Latinas as well. Talk about grandiose stories!

What I also realized is that by focusing on avoiding mistakes, I was holding myself back from risking—at work, at home, in my relationships, etc. I would put off crucial conversations or providing feedback as long as I could because I was afraid of not doing a good job the first time around or that I might be wrong.

Fortunately, I started to work with an awesome coach that asked me some powerful questions. As a result, I learned to shift how I perceived mistakes and to see them as stepping-stones and opportunities to improve. I learned to differentiate between failing and being a failure.

Failures hold us back when we are not open to learning from them. By focusing on failure as a bad thing we end up limiting ourselves. It holds us back from receiving feedback and allowing us to be vulnerable and authentic. We are not open to learning and stretching. Apologies do not come easy to anyone and when we cannot recognize our mistakes, it’s almost impossible to say I am sorry in a sincere manner. We end up not even trying and maybe becoming complacent.

Playing it safe contributes to boredom, lack of creative thinking and staying inside the box. If you are a business, it affects your revenue and being able to compete in the market place. As a professional, it affects your performance and development. As a leader, you don’t stretch or inspire others and end up emphasizing that failing is not an option.

Fearing failure also contributes to having unrealistic expectations of your staff and affects your supervisory style. How can your team grow if there is no room for creative thinking or stretching? What is the incentive for someone to admit an error and ask for help if this may be seen as a negative?

Yes, success is important and don’t let fear of failure hold you back from stretching, trying new things and risking a little. To appreciate the gifts from your mistakes and failures, consider the following:

  • Break the cycle— Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “Insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.” Learn from your mistakes. Identify how can you grow from the experience and modify your behavior or process that you use to change your results.
  • Acknowledge failures and move on—We all want to succeed and sometimes we have to stumble or fall down before crossing the finish line. Acknowledge what went wrong, your part in it and then get up and move. Consider them steps moving you toward your goals. If you don’t own it, it will fester and keep you from being able to move forward successfully.
  • Clarify is this F.E.A.R.?—Differentiate between False Evidence Appearing Real (F.E.A.R.) and what truly concerns you. Is your concern real or is it a story that you are buying into and that you are allowing to influence your decisions?
  • Reflect on the following questions: -What is it that scares you about failing? -What stories are you attaching to failing? -What is the worst-case scenario? -What is the best-case scenario? -What are you risking by not trying? -What's possible if you were not concerned about failing? -What are true consequences and which ones have you made up?
  • Learn to say I don’t know AND follow up—Give yourself permission to not always have the answers AND make it a point to take action. Get curious and ask clarifying questions or do some research.
  • Engage others—Reach out and ask for input. Tap into the expertise of others and build on ideas. No one became successful without the help, input or support of others.

Your turn: In the comment section below, share what have you been able to accomplish when you let go of fearing failure.

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