Overcoming individual fears and channeling your inner strength with bravery and confidence is an important part of finding success in life. It isn’t always easy discovering our inner ‘Gutsy Girl’, so we spoke with Caroline Paul, author of a best-selling book about that very topic, to discover different techniques for becoming the bravest version of ourselves.
Many girls are sometimes afraid to be their true selves for a variety of reasons (upbringing, stereotypes, self-doubt, social pressure, etc.). How did you discover your confidence and become a ‘Gutsy Girl’?
When I was a kid, I was really shy, had a lot of fear and the world seemed quite scary to me, but a few things helped me find my confidence. First, I have an identical twin and I felt I had somebody in the world who I knew was always going to be there for me. Also, my twin sister was way more outgoing than I was and not fearful. She was also very social and really curious, and what that meant for me is that I became more of an observer than an interactor, which I think is not a bad thing, because I learned and developed empathy – I understood what it felt like to be an outsider. When you have a twin, it can be quite intense and people compare you, but we didn’t want to be compared – we wanted to be equal but also individuals. This was something we struggled with for a long time, but in a good way and it made us, ultimately, very confident.
Secondly, my mom grew up with a mother who was really fearful, especially of physical risk, and she didn’t let my mom do anything, including playing outside. It was a totally different time and there was a sense that women and girls were fragile and in danger. When my mom, at the age of 21, went on a ski trip with friends, she just loved it and realized everything she’d been missing. When she had us, she wasn’t trying to instill bravery or character in us – she just wanted us to have fun and really encouraged us both to go outside and try different things. We skied, sledded, skated, swam, played instruments… all at a really young age. The idea was just to check everything out, and see, and challenge oneself. We were unconsciously getting outside of our comfort zones a lot when we were kids.
In your Ted Talk (October 2016 at TEDWomen), you said that, “Bravery is learned and, like anything learned, it just needs to be practiced”. What would be a good starting point for a shy or timid girl to manage her anxiety or fear?
Try to do everything in really small steps. They might feel huge, but when you look at them closely, they are small. Eventually, they’ll lead you to your goal of whatever that bigger goal is; to join the soccer team, talk to one person a day, or be friends with that girl that you really like, because she’s nice and smart, etc. We have to break it down and just push that comfort zone.
Girls sometimes overestimate the risks and underestimate themselves. What would be the number one skill to practice and conquer to help with lack of confidence in our own decisions?
The key is to push your boundaries as often as you can. For example, when I want to say no to something, as a writer, I have to stop and think, “Why don’t I just say ‘yes’, let’s talk about it”, because I want to practice bravery. I can always say ‘no’ in the end if it really doesn’t feel right, but ultimately what you find is that it’s well within your bandwidth.
You once said that it’s important “to be interested in everything.” Many extraordinary people like Leonardo da Vinci, Amelia Earhart or Maya Angelou were interested in many aspects of life and took chances. In our modern world it can be easy for a girl to become bored, so how can being curious and brave create a fulfilling life? What role do bravery and determination play in becoming a writer?
There were no phones when we were kids, but I always thought that if people say they were bored, which I know even adults say a lot, it’s a lack of imagination. If you’re not bringing the party, or bringing the fun, or bringing that goodness, or bringing the interesting questions, then that’s why you’re bored. It’s up to us to create our own exciting life. Wherever you go, there are opportunities – you just have to see them.
There is no time for apathy, and we cannot sit back and let someone else do it for us just because we’ve been told as girls that we can’t. You are capable and you can try. How often do you sit back and then boys take the lead? Boys think they have to take the lead, and conversely, girls don’t think they can. Once we start taking the lead, life will really open up and it won’t be boring anymore.
I was a firefighter for many years and it was the emotional bravery that was the hardest for me – seeing people suffer, going into poverty-stricken places, interacting with homeless people who were terribly addicted to things. It required bravery, and writing is the same for me.You have to look deep within yourself and find compassion and empathy, and that’s how you become a better writer.
You’ve written five books – what’s your secret to being so productive and what is your writing process?
I have a routine – I wake up, I always have the same breakfast and then I write. Being a writer is a very hard profession as there’s a lot of rejection. Writing is also manual labor with your hands and fingers moving along the typewriter and pushing keys. It’s physical because when you write a sentence, it’s like bricklaying – you put one brick after the other and eventually you make one wall.
You have to look at writing as just persistence and doggedness because there are many people with great ideas, but if they don’t start or finish, their books will never going to come into the world. So there’s a doggedness that I have, as does my twin sister, that serves me. I don’t think I’m excellent, and I’m not trying to be coy. I’ve said this before in interviews; I am not excellent at anything. But what I am good at is persistence and knowing that if I just try to do the work, there’s a really good chance that it will happen. I am very aware of the fact that I am l privileged and work doesn’t always get you where you want to be. There are so many pre-judgments and prejudices that people face, but for me, within my sphere, just sitting down and putting word after word works. For writers, there are so many people who want to write a book but ‘it’s the last person standing’, is the way I think of it.
Tips and tricks:
- Try to do everything in really small steps. They might feel huge, but when you look at them closely, they are small, and eventually, they’ll lead you to your goal
- It’s up to us to create our own exciting life. Wherever you go, there are opportunities – you just have to see them
- You have to look at writing as just persistence and doggedness, because there are many people with great ideas, but if they don’t start or finish, their books will never going to come into the world