Wonder Woman is as much about the journey of self-discovery as it is about learning about the world. Diana Prince leaves Themyscira a naïve yet highly-skilled warrior. From the minute she leaves home, everything she does is new to her. In each situation, she uses the process of doing to gain new knowledge. And that’s the key: being open to new ideas makes Diana Prince the perfect superhero because she is able to adapt to the ever-changing landscape of freedom fighting while never losing her strength.
There’s a saying that I first came across when I studied women who hold board of director positions in tech industries: “When a woman doesn’t know something, she takes a class. When a man doesn’t know, he takes the job”. These incredible executives, each a wonder woman in her own right, achieved a seat at a table so few people, let alone women, ever go. Disrupters, women like my research participants and the two wonder women featured in this week’s article, have become well versed on jumping into the unknown. Learn the three ways you can thrive as you navigate unchartered territory.
1. Replace fear with curiosity
Described by Forbes as “one of the women VCs changing the world — grooming the next generation of female leaders,” Jeanne Sullivan, founder and Chief Inspiration Officer at Sullivan Adventures, is not afraid of breaking stereotypes with her voice, capital and passion. From the traditional persona of a successful big logo executive to a celebrated New York-based venture capitalist, Sullivan has plunged into the controversial world of cannabis. Yes, pot. “I am fearless. I don’t pay attention to the stigma wrought on this industry more than 80 years ago and still remains today,” says Sullivan.
That fearlessness is fueled by knowledge. “My curiosity for learning allows me to embrace the unknown,” says Sullivan. She employs a combination of good old-fashioned research and surrounding herself with experts. Any fear she may have for the unknown is replaced by the excitement of meeting new people and exposure to new experiences.
Sullivan’s advice for embracing the unknown: Use the tools you have to build competence. Channeling Wonder Woman in a recent keynote address to female entrepreneurs in the cannabis market, Sullivan offered these encouraging words, “Take this lasso and go find yourself a great investor. Take these arm bands and let them keep you back from the jerks and bozos that may stand in your way, and take this tiara and use it as a projectile to take down the walls that stand in your way… and go build your businesses”.
2. Leverage your strengths to deliver value
Transitioning from marketing to human resources required Nicole McCabe, Vice President of Strategic Programs at SAP, to take a leap of faith. It paid off. “We achieved our goal of having 25% women in leadership before our 2017 deadline,” says McCabe. That kind of impact is what enables McCabe to continually reach outside of her comfort zone.
The road to success from the unknown is wrought with potholes and wrong turns. McCabe embraces these challenges by accepting accountability and taking time for self-reflection. “Progress in the unknown requires that I take the time to understand how things could have turned out differently and how I could have influenced it,” says McCabe.
McCabe’s advice for embracing the unknown: Know what you bring to the table. “I have a strong understanding of what I am good at and what I am not. I choose the unknown based on whether I feel it can leverage my strengths and drive immediate impact,” says McCabe.
3. Find comfort in discomfort
One of the most important lessons I have learned in my life as a status quo disruptor is that I had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable for long periods of time. From entering industries and roles where I had no contacts, no institutional knowledge and no real credentials, I found that I had a choice to either embrace the discomfort or run-away from it. I chose the former.
For me, comfort quickly equates to boredom. But, I am human, too. Venturing into unchartered territory can be nerve-wracking. Whenever I feel discomfort being replaced with fear, I think about what I can control and what I cannot. I can control where I spend my time, what I chose to learn and how I chose to act. I cannot control my environment. My job is to take the steps I can, learning with each decision and action, as I learn to navigate in my new world.
Related video: How to Overcome Fear and Find Motivation
My advice for making decisions that matter: remember that nothing lasts forever. Every minute that passes is an opportunity to navigate toward a steady state where disruption becomes a new, better status quo. As you get practiced in navigating the unknown, that feeling of discomfort becomes an indicator that you are on the right track.