When I started telling people that I was planning to leave my stable and secure job where I had been employed for more than a decade to not only make a career pivot, but to do so as a solo entrepreneur, the most common response I received was, “You’re so brave!”
I appreciated the sentiment, but chaffed at the implication. It reminded me of Amy Schumer’s reaction in a 2016 interview, “When a nude photo of yourself goes viral, the word you don’t want people to use to describe it is ‘brave’.”
Being called brave in these situations meant that people had assessed the action as involving a high level of risk, hazardous even. A perilous leap that required outsized courage and a dollop of faith to endure. However, clearly, Amy didn’t see it that way. I suppose I didn’t either since I probably would not have followed through with it. Instead, I wanted people to say, “Wow, you’re so wise! What a rational, well-thought-out, and responsible decision you’re making.”
The truth is that I couldn’t – or didn’t want to – believe that the move I was making was risky. After all, I am the prototypical first-born child, the don’t-make-waves girl, the one who tows the line, and certainly doesn’t make impulsive nor foolish decisions. My nickname was “Mom” in third grade and, looking back, I think it described my bossiness as much as my high-waisted jeans.
In high school, not only was I a rule follower, but I was a rule lover. I relied on the structure rules provided to help me make choices that fell cleanly into right and wrong. When the prom party I attended was broken up by cops and my parents were called at 4:00 am to collect me, the police officer shared with them that I was one of the few kids not drinking. Although I’ve since loosened up on that rigid good girl persona as I’ve aged (I’m much more fun now, I promise!), being responsible and making thoughtful, rational decisions has not totally fallen by the wayside.
So, how does this reformed goody-two-shoes end up leaving her secure job where she has a manager-level title and a healthy 403(b) to start a business from scratch in something she has never done before?
There were lots of reasons why I ultimately decided to make the leap, some of which I expect will emerge in future blog posts. However, if I’m really being honest, I know that it wasn’t bravery at all; it was privilege in action. As a white, straight, cisgender, able-bodied, upper-middleclass, well-educated, English-speaking US citizen in my 40s, I felt confident that I could traverse this new chapter relatively unscathed.
I felt secure in taking that potentially precarious leap because I had a spouse with a stable job, a comfortable paycheck, and quality health insurance coverage for our family. We had savings that could provide a small, but viable temporary financial cushion if needed. We had reliable childcare and families who would be able to support us in case of emergency. I had a robust network of well-connected personal and professional contacts that provided me access to decision-makers in various organizations to jumpstart my business development.
The only party that would ever question my credentials or credibility was my own inner critic. I could feel assured in knowing that even if I totally bombed, I would somehow still land on my feet. Failure was literally not an option.
And, here’s the kicker: having lots of privilege means instead of thinking I was ridiculous, irresponsible, or irrational, others viewed me as brave.
So, I appreciate what I know was intended to be a compliment and the generous sentiment behind it, but let’s reserve brave for the true sheroes and heroes, those who boldly face adversity and make sacrifices when the stakes are high. I think we need a different way to describe risk-taking within a well-cushioned safety net of privilege. If you know of such a word, please let me know. In the interim, let’s see if we can get brave* to catch on.
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