A Changemaker Experience: On Courage with Blair Miller and Sarah Lewis
This month in New York, we hosted our first ever Changemaker Experience, taking a deep dive into the minds of two impressive Changemakers: Blair Miller, an impact investor, and Sarah Lewis, Harvard professor and author of The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery.
Our topic: courage. We wanted to know what courage meant to these women with very different stories and how they have come to define and demonstrate courage in their lives. Sitting barefoot on the floor, couches, and chairs interspersed throughout Blair’s airy apartment overlooking the Hudson River, 40 women listened and chimed in with their thoughts and questions.
Here are just a few of our favorite reflections from the evening..
Courage above all else
“Courage is moving beyond fear: when you feel something uncomfortable and you move through it,” said Blair as she recalled how she leapt into a teaching role in a remote city of Korea, uprooted from her friends, family, and life in the US and stripped of her branding, after a failed attempt at applying for Teach for America. It was through this experience that she discovered her criteria for who she wanted to be and how she would define herself going forward.
“Courage asks us to summon the fortitude required to be who we know we should,” explained Sarah. “It’s about that reach, that stretch, it’s why we are all here.” Sarah recounted her college application process in which she wrote her personal essay about her own failures, but hid it from her college advisor and parents until two days before the application was due to ensure that she wouldn’t get talked out of submitting it. Several years later, without telling anyone, she started working on The Rise alongside her dissertation and quietly fostered the courage to push through it against competing demands and expectations.
You’re not failing, you’re nearly winning
Sarah and Blair both had the most positive outlook on failure. We loved how Sarah frames failure as the “near win,” when you come just shy of your goal but the resulting frustration can propel you forward. We also loved Blair’s take on “micro-failures” and the importance of failing small and often: diversify and mitigate potential failures by giving yourself options to shift directions or fall back on.
Fascinations of failure
By examining so-called failures, as she did of artists, entrepreneurs, and inventors in The Rise, Sarah explained that you can stand in attention to your own life in ways that you cannot by observing success. Offering the next generation a source of inspiration through the hidden stories of our most iconic individuals is what ultimately drove Sarah to pen the book.
Grounded by what matters most
Blair told a hilarious story about her father calling her at 2pm on a weekday afternoon. “This is your father, you have time for my call,” he said into the phone after she gasped that she was in a meeting. Perspective and an understanding from your loved ones of what really matters has helped her stay grounded and approach risks intentionally.
This is what courage looks like
When asked how to build a community of courage, Sarah and Blair assured the group that they were doing just that by being a room of diverse women coming together to be inspired and learn from one another. It’s these live interactions that enable us to connect in a place where it is okay to be vulnerable.
Seeing these two women reflect so thoughtfully on their life experiences and work allowed us to envision how we can find comfort in our failings (or near wins) and the courage to move beyond fear.
Learn more about Sarah Lewis and Blair Miller in the links below.