Got a Big Goal? It’s Okay to be Scared.

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I didn’t always have a job I loved. Far from it: At age 23, I got fired from my first job. I’ll never forget what my boss said the day she let me go: “You’ll never succeed except in a highly structured environment.”

Such was my lack of self-knowledge that I didn’t even grasp the meaning. But she was a seasoned, successful, businesswoman so I assumed she knew what she was talking about. And for the next seven excruciating years, I took that to heart.

For the rest of my 20s, I was gripped with anxiety that I’d never find work in which I excelled. I wanted desperately to be skillful at something—anything. I secretly envied people who mastered their craft and were successful at it. On my 30th birthday, I cried all day because I was so damn sure I’d never amount to anything. But by then I had already (slowly and unexpectedly) begun to piece together the elements that would lead me to my current role as a women’s leadership speaker.

By identifying role models who really inspired me, I found myself in breathtaking awe of two women whom I saw speak to large groups. They had such presence—on stage and during one-on-one conversations. They communicated honestly and fearlessly, in ways that energized and galvanized me, and felt transformational. I would experience a tremendous sense of accomplishment, I reasoned, if I could become good at that skill, even though it scared me almost to death. So I gritted my teeth and forced myself to volunteer for every opportunity to coach or train others.

The first time I was paid to lead a 12-week training course, two people quit after the first session because I was so terrible. But, I stuck with it, and my confidence increased every time I got positive feedback. With time and practice, I stopped feeling sick with fear before every presentation. The more I focused on developing my new skill, the more my anxiety faded.

Now, if I need an infusion of courage, or if I find myself hesitating to play big, I remember my role models and ask myself: “What would Andrea do? What would Sandra do?”

Eleanor Roosevelt famously said: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” I’ll build on that and encourage you to do the thing that scares the crap out of you, but makes you feel tremendously accomplished, whether it’s learning a new skill, solving a big problem, leaving a toxic boss, or pitching a world-changing idea. Making your mark in the world is going to take some courage.

Growing into the leader you were meant to become can be downright terrifying.

It’s okay to be scared.

It’s okay to want to play it safe.

But don’t let that stop you. Find a goal that would make you feel you feel tremendously accomplished. Think of someone or something that truly inspires you. Summon the courage, and take a small action to move forward. It will get easier.

Jo Miller

A leading authority on women’s leadership, Jo Miller is a sought-after, dynamic, and engaging speaker, delivering more than 70 speaking presentations annually to audiences of up to 1,200 women. Her expertise lies in helping women lead, climb, and thrive in their corporate careers. Jo has traveled widely in Europe, North America, Asia Pacific, and the Middle East to deliver keynotes and teach workshops for women’s leadership conferences, women’s professional associations, and Fortune 1000 corporate women’s initiatives. Jo is founding editor of Learn more about her speaking engagements at and follow @Jo_Miller on Twitter.


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