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Dreaming and Doing

Moco Museum, Amsterdam

I listened to a great conversation last week between Brené Brown and designer/writer Debbie Millman on Brown’s podcast Dare to Lead. Besides being a longtime successful designer and brand expert, Millman has had her own podcast, Design Matters, since 2004. The dialog was focused primarily on Millman’s new book, Why Design Matters. We were listening because Jodi and I and my best friend Mary often listen to inspiring podcasts on Wednesdays when Mary comes over for lunch. But this one has stuck with me, partly because both women are so honest and real, and therefore relatable. In this case, though, a couple of things they said feel so important that I wanted to note them—and share them.

Creativity was the gist of what the two talked about, including what it takes for people to create, design, and write, among other things. I’m fascinated by creativity, and I fully believe that much of what we do is creative. If we’re moving—and moving forward—we’re creating something. It was only moments into their chat that Millman said the first thing that resonated with me. After listing a number of challenges she’d faced earlier in her career, she said she finally had the strength to push herself when she had “one notch more optimism and hope than shame.”

What better time than this last part of my life to take some bigger steps? I know it might feel scary, but I also know that so much of what I've dreamed of is on this path ahead of me.

I love this idea because it’s what stops all of us—our own fears about our abilities and our sense of readiness to do something we really want to do. Whatever old feelings we’ve carried with us since we were kids still hang behind us like sad backdrops, frequently announcing to us that we can’t have what we really want because we aren’t good enough. In my own life, I imagine having to become a totally different person if I ever hope for some my dreams to come true. The reminder that the scales don’t have to shift all that far for us to feel empowered to act was heartening.

My biggest takeaway from the podcast, though, had to do with a bit of their conversation about the difference between confidence and courage—two traits I would pay money to feel inside myself on a more regular basis. But it wasn’t until I was listening to these women talk that I realized I’d always thought of confidence and courage as being kind of the same. I’ve believed that if I just worked on my shortcomings enough, I would become more confident and courageous. Hypothetically, in my way of thinking, if I wanted to become confident enough to become a serious tennis player, I figured I would have to kind of magically improve my feelings about myself and my tennis skills. Then, I would feel confident enough to go out there and blast a serve over the net. It never occurred to me that the confidence could grow as I did the work.

Millman’s story, about staying in jobs too long and dealing with her own insecurities, helped me see confidence in a new way. She emphasized that you really develop confidence over time, while you’re doing the thing you really want to do. You have to decide it’s something you want enough to simply do it. There will be failures, of course, but you just take those in and move on. In these terms, then, courage is what it takes to do the thing you want to do whether you feel confident or not. The confidence builds the more you practice.

I love this, much like I love this time in my life, when I’m learning new things, trying approaches I haven’t tried before, and letting myself dream about what’s next. As a not-very-confident person who has lived in my head way too long, I'm beginning to see the power of doing—just doing and learning from it. I’ve imagined the doing longer than I can say. What better time than this last part of my life to take some bigger steps? I know it might feel scary, but I also know that so much of what I've dreamed of is on this path ahead of me.


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