by Lauren Fergusen
I believe we’re born bold. It’s within all of us. However, whether out of fear or judgment, our own beautiful boldness often remains undiscovered. This is the story of how I discovered my boldness, and the fire it stoked within me to lead me to where I am today and where I’m going.
When I was in high school, I ran for school president against 3 male peers. Shortly after the debates in front of my peers, there was a comic in the school newspaper commenting on the innovative and exciting ideas of the other male candidates. The last section was about me. It didn’t comment on the innovative and exciting ideas I spent hours pouring into my speech. Instead, it commented on my gender and appearance. It was the first time I can remember feeling the injustice of being judged for being a woman, and that being a woman mattered more to others than my aptitude and ability.
Years later, I found myself in a similar place in graduate school. I received a phone call from academic affairs that I was the subject of an investigation. I agreed to be interviewed and was devastated by what followed. As the top ranked student in the class, there was accusation that my grades were a result of an inappropriate favoritism. I was questioned if I was offered extensions on assignments in exchange for sexual favors or if I had ever been alone with a professor in their private residence. Ultimately, there was no truth to the accusation and nothing became of the false claims. However yet again, I found myself confused and embarrassed that my hard work and commitment to my education were invisible in comparison the metaphorical W branded into my forehead marking me as a woman.
I discovered my boldness when I look back at these memories.
I ended up losing the school president race after the comic was published. But I didn’t shrink into the folds, I applied for a different leadership role and excelled in the position. And despite walking into my graduate seminars every week stomach hot with the knowledge that I had peers around me who didn’t think I was smart enough to be the top-ranked student, I raised my hand higher.
Looking back, I realized that even as a teenager, I told my girlfriends to stop apologizing when they had a question in class. They shouldn’t have to say “I’m sorry” for trying to learn. It was remembering that when a boss at an early age told me I could make a lot money because of what I looked like, I responded confidently that my mind and heart will be what makes me successful.
This boldness has also pushed me into opportunities that would grow my career into something I’m proud of. It led me to founding the first women’s group and diversity/inclusion program at my company, being a chapter leader for over 3,000 women a part of Lean In Seattle and speaking about inclusion across the country.
With the rise of the #metoo movement, TimesUp, Lean In and the other bold voices of the past few years, I realized that I have been fighting alongside all these women since running for high school president. I am honored to share this platform with women around the globe. It gives me goosebumps thinking about how this collective boldness is making a better world for my future daughter.
My Be Bold moment was when I discovered my own boldness has always been within me. It was when I realized I have been using my voice and action for something so beautiful and important all along. And my even bolder moment is recognizing that I’m just getting started and there’s nothing stopping me now.
Image credit: Cynthia Hartwig