The Courage to Speak


microphone for the courage to speak“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Death is number two. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” ―Jerry Seinfeld

The Shame in Speaking

We’ve all been in a classroom, workshop, or meeting when the leader asks a question and there’s dead silence from the audience. Perhaps you’ve been that student or employee who had a good response, maybe even the “right” one, yet you were afraid to speak, just like the rest of the trembling hands in the room.

Who can blame you? The shame that could ensue if you gave a “stupid” or “wrong” or “unconventional” answer is tough for anyone to handle, especially with an audience of peers.

I’ve definitely been that person several times in the past 28 years. Sometimes I’d speak, but I’d dilute my true opinions and feelings depending on the audience. SMH.

The Consequences of Speaking

Saying the wrong thing, or saying the right thing in the wrong way, can cause us to lose our jobs, lose our friends, lose our family, lose our place in society . . .

We might be made fun of, laughed at, harshly criticized, investigated, imprisoned, or murdered.

There’s no doubt that what we say and how we say it has real, tangible, negative consequences in many cases.

I’m hosting a screening in New Orleans on June 19 of the new documentary Free Angela & All Political Prisoners. Davis became one of America’s most wanted, was imprisoned, and faced the death penalty because she had the courage (audacity) to speak. She’s one example among thousands throughout history and in present day society.

The Power of Speaking

Words are powerful. Language, speech, communication is powerful.

Most of us are taught how to be humble, kind, considerate, modest, respectful, obedient, and safe. But few of us are taught how to be powerful, how to embrace and wield our power to change our world. Instead, we’re taught how to maintain, or at the very least, not disturb the status quo.

Speaking is one of the most profound human fears because speaking itself is so profound and so powerful.

When others try to silence you, or stifle your speech, they’re trying to take away your power, most likely to maintain or increase their own.

The Tipping Point

And since many people struggle to speak (speak honestly) even when they’re directly asked, it’d seem like suicide to speak without the direct prompt of some authority figure. (Don’t speak unless you’re spoken to is a terrible thing to teach children.)

Why would anyone speak up without first being asked to?

Probably because they’re prompted by a situation rather than a direct address.

The stranger in the checkout line pays our grocery bill, and we’re prompted to say, “Thank you!”

We’re watching a movie, and a potential victim is about to get into the car with a serial killer, and we’re prompted to yell at the screen, “Don’t go with her! She’s the stiletto stabber!”

Another good example is the intriguing television show “What Would You Do?” with John Quinones where strangers often speak up when they see someone in a potentially unethical or dangerous situation, such as a man slipping something in his date’s drink.

Whether it’s someone with their zipper down or government sanctioned apartheid, we find the courage to say something when we believe the consequences for not speaking are worse than the consequences for speaking. It’s at that tipping point where we decide to act despite our fears―courage.

The Time I Spoke

Some things aren’t as scary to say as other things, right? The more controversial or personal the message, the more we hesitate to get it out.

There was a message I’d wanted to give for over twenty years. It was both highly controversial and deeply personal. If you’ve ever heard about colorism, then you might understand why.

I wrote two posts about colorism that explained my tipping point―why I hadn’t talked about colorism (the negative consequences for speaking), and why I decided to start (the negative consequences for not speaking).

It was the first time I’d ever really opened up about the issue, and it was in a very public way. I actually winced while writing because I was exposing myself to the blows of shame and criticism. My heart raced when it was time to publish, and it took me a long time to press the button, like standing at the edge of a diving board, looking down into the abyss. I trembled. But what a rush when I finally jumped.

I surfaced with a new found freedom, and realized that I survived, not completely unscathed, but stronger because I faced my fears.

I did lose one friendship over those posts, and people told me to shut up, that I didn’t know what I was talking about. But none of that was as painful as it would have been to remain silent.

It’s hard to replicate that experience (maybe because not much else makes me feel so vulnerable), but I continue to look for opportunities to build my courage. I’m not always successful, but I make the effort.

And You?

Tell us about a time you spoke despite your trembling voice, shaky hands, and sweaty palms.


Think of something you really want to say and weigh the pros and cons of remaining silent against the pros and cons of speaking up. Have you reached your tipping point for the courage to speak?

5 Life Changing Lessons I Learned from a High School Haircut


metal scissors on blue background to depict lessons i learned from a high school haircut“Sarah is brave,” whispered the girl at the back of my high school math class.

I’d never considered myself brave or particularly courageous. In my head, those adjectives were reserved for people who rescued kittens from burning buildings and other fictional personas like Indiana Jones.

But having one of my peers call me brave simply because of my choice of hairstyles?

I let that idea simmer in the deepest parts of my teenage brain. In high school, I chose to stop using chemicals to straighten my hair. I simply let it grow from my head the way it naturally grew from birth.

The way it naturally grew from birth.

And I needed bravery to do that?

To let my hair grow the way it naturally grew from birth?

It baffled me in some ways, but I did understand why my classmate would consider my hairstyle choice to be an act of bravery.

When we don’t fall in line with cultural norms, we run the risk of social punishment, either in the form of bullying, alienation, rejection, or something worse.

My hair in its natural state defied cultural norms, especially for women.

It was short and nappy.

Some women might get away with one or the other, but daring to don a do that was both short and nappy at the same time was sure to get a girl ostracized.

But it’s what I wanted.

And that’s what this post, no, this entire blog is about–living the life you really want.

So, in many ways, this post is bigger than anyone’s afro. It’s about hair, but it could just as easily be about any natural inclination you have, however mundane, that goes against the social grain. We all know that friend who pretends to hate/love something just because “everyone else” hates/loves it. (Yes, I like the Twilight movies, and I don’t care how many “cool” kids claim to hate them.)

We all (you and me and everyone) long to do things that might break some unspoken (or spoken) rule.

“Every man in this family is either a doctor or a lawyer.”

“Real men don’t dance.”

“Good women stick with their husbands no matter what.”

“Pretty girls have long, silky, straight hair.”

“When you submit your will to someone else’s opinion, a part of you dies.” ―Lauryn Hill.

I got my fair share of teasing, insults, and well-intentioned disapproval because of my hair throughout high school and beyond, but I’d decided that my freedom felt way better than the acceptance of others who were too afraid to break free themselves.

And from that high school experience, here are five lessons I’ve learned that I hope will encourage you to change hairstyles, change careers, or do whatever’s on your heart.

1. A little social punishment won’t hurt as much as the pain of knowing that you’re not free to be yourself and live the life you really want.

2. Whatever decision you make, people will get over it. If they don’t, then get over them. “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.”

3. Some people who haven’t found the courage to do a certain thing will try to put down those who have.

4. Courage develops over a lifetime, but only if you work at it.

5. Being yourself is a lot more fun and a lot less work than trying to be someone else.

What did high school teach you about courage?

Adventures in Courage: How We Can Be Super Heroes in the Real World!

Guest Post by Jennifer Brown Banks 

“Live your life with courage. It’s from this that all other virtues come.”

Young Super Hero Standing on Laundry MachinesWhen most people think about courage, they think of heroic acts like firefighter rescues, or the good Samaritan that foils a robbery attempt, or the soldier that goes to war to defend the liberties of our country.

Even when we as writers “craft” heroes or protagonists in our creative pieces, we pen them with the power to leap buildings, or defy bullets, or as possessing super human strength.

But the good news is that courage doesn’t have to be brazen or bold. We can tap into it as mere “mortals.”

Courage can be something as simple as making a tough decision to challenge the status quo. Or it can be trying something different that takes us out of our comfort zone–like quitting a job or moving to a new city.

As such, we don’t have to look to characters in the novels that we read to be inspired or to embrace it.

Here are five real life examples where we can show courage, and grow mentally and spiritually, so we become that super hero we admire!

Episodes in courage…

The Courage to Forgive Others

This is not to offend. But it amazes me that some people can hold a grudge longer than they can hold a job. Hello? I’ve heard of family members that didn’t speak to each other for years over a simple misunderstanding. Or women who “can never forgive” the man that broke their heart. And this is certainly not to trivialize anyone’s feelings; but many times we must summon the courage to look beyond other’s faults and indiscretions and simply move on. Why? Because in so doing, it allows us to be “free.” Free from anger, free from being a victim, free from wasted energy. A bitter heart blocks the beauty of life. Leave it to karma to even the score, if you feel you were unjustifiably wronged. You’ll sleep better too.

The Courage to Forgive Ourselves

Nobody’s perfect. And most of us, given the days of our youth, would probably admit that there would be some aspect of our lives that we’d do differently, if we could turn back the hands of time. We can’t. Consider that the lessons you made from those mistakes and the wisdom and strength gained, helped you to become more realized and more empathetic to other people’s experiences and pain. There’s always a trade-off in life.

The Courage to be Different

The media, fads, and cultural dictates often cause us to wear what others wear, emulate their actions, and buy into their way of thinking, in order to be socially accepted, and part of the “in crowd.” But as intelligent adults, it’s important to recognize that independent thinking, based upon our own personal values, lifestyles, personality, and goals will provide for a much better quality of life and long-term satisfaction.

The Courage to Love

Opening our hearts can be scary. Truth is, there are no guarantees in love. It renders us vulnerable. It often makes us do silly things and breaks down our defenses. It can cloud our judgment. And it can go terribly wrong and cause us to have a “achey breaky heart.” But living without love is like living in a world void of color. Can you imagine how bland that would be? Take a chance. There’s great truth to the adage: “It is better to have lived and loved than never to have loved at all.” Make 2013 a year of passion in all areas of your life.

The Courage to Stand up for our Convictions

Whether it’s the courage to speak up for someone who is unfairly being gossiped about at work, delivering our own “truths” as writers, or defending our religious beliefs, sometimes standing up for our principles really takes courage. But, you don’t need to “preach” to teach. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Sometimes the best sermon is a good example.”

These are just five simple ways we can redefine courage in the way that we live, and realize we all have the potential to become heroes in the decisions that we make daily.

Jennifer Brown Banks is a veteran freelance writer, ghost writer and pro blogger. Her work has appeared in various blogs and magazines including: Pro Blogger, Men With Pens, Write to Done, and Technorati.

Her blog, Pen and Prosper, was recently chosen as one of “The Power 100”–Best blogs for Modern Writers in 2013.

Go After Your Dreams: An Interview with Noelle Sterne Part 2

go after your dreams book coverIf you haven’t read part 1 of this interview, read it here.

Now, let’s continue with more lessons about how to Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams.

SLW: I’m definitely practicing. And that goes along with having compassion for yourself and realizing that the negative conditions that were put on us with society, we inherited, for most of us it’s been years, decades, of that kind of negative thinking.

NS: Oh, generations! And the news is so full of all the negativity all the time.

SLW: Yeah, it definitely takes a lot of effort to steer away from it.

NS: Let me say too, Sarah, though, that I’ve observed that more and more people are waking up to the spiritual truths of what we’re talking about. They’re waking up to the inner self. They’re waking up to the fact that there’s more than all the material stuff. It doesn’t satisfy. There’s more to life than all the acquisitions. That to me is very hopeful. And more and more books are appearing, and just the fact that you are interested in my book, the fact that I wrote it, the fact that I had the desire to write it, the fact that somebody published it. And we’re not the only ones. In the interviews and websites of literary agents, many, many times the subjects they specify include self-help and New Age. They actually say “New Age.” Sometimes they say “Mind-Body-Spirit,” You never used to see that. That to me also is extremely hopeful.

SLW: Speaking of the agents and people publishing, as a writer and a blogger who someday hopes to have a book, I’m curious about the writing process. Would you say that writing this specific book, or writing in general, takes courage? Does it take courage to be a writer?

NS: I would say that the description of writing as a courageous act sometimes depends on the writer, maybe on the content. I think of an attorney who writes a book about briefs that all attorneys must write.,The writing may not be very courageous. Let’s say she knows the topic well, she has outlines already designed, her firm endorses the book, even gives her time off to write it, and she already has a legal publisher lined up.

In contrast, think about an aspiring fiction writer who’s a school teacher and writes about her abusive childhood. This writing may be extremely courageous. Why? She dreads reliving the horrific memories, for one thing. She’s afraid that those who were involved who are still alive may hate her and vilify her, and she feels the book may not have much chance of getting published, maybe in an overcrowded field. Yet her insides tell her she must write it. To me, every time she works on it, she’s performing a courageous act.

Maybe I should correct even the attorney example, because whatever the subject, writing a book is generally living in a state of creative limbo. You have to make a thousand decisions every moment. If you don’t make them the first moment, you make them the second, third, fourth draft. Even formulaic book writing, such as mystery, adventure, espionage, romance, takes that same kind of courage. Some writers, we know, do extensive outlines and character sketches. Mary Higgins Clark, the romance mystery writer, writes full biographies of all her characters before she even starts a book. Well, with outlines or not, the courage of the writer is really to jump off into the unknown. Maybe Higgins Clark writes those biographies to give her a sense of the known.

There’s a poem I love by the American poet Richard Wilbur. I’ve often quoted two lines from it, and to me they’re a writer’s mantra. Listen to this: “Step off assuredly into the blank of your mind. Something will come to you” (from the poem “Walking to Sleep”). That takes courage.

SLW: That does! It sounds frightening.

NS: Maybe, though, we get used to that unknown a little bit, to that feeling of “jumping off.”

SLW: It’s almost like skydiving. I imagine that the first time for anyone is terrifying. But the more you do it, you probably still feel a thrill, but it’s less scary each time.

NS: Right. Also the more we do it, the more we have faith in the process. There’s a Unity saying, ”Trust the process.” Part of the process may be that you start out like this: “Oh, my god, I’m so afraid of the blank page, the cursor blinking at me, mocking me.” But you put down two things. You know it’s terrible. Then make yourself put down two things more, and you gradually get into the flow.

SLW: So did this specific book require courage from you? Would you say Trust Your Life required courage?

NS: Of course. What do you think? Is that a rhetorical question?

SLW: It is, but I want to hear it in your own words instead of imagining what you would say.

NS: In many ways it required courage to write. From the standpoint of what I just described, I knew I had to write it. Yet, I still spent days under the covers, figuratively and literally, trying to avoid it and knowing I couldn’t. I finally snuck up on it, and developed several different tables of contents and chapter outlines. Then I changed them several times. As I kept looking and thinking, they didn’t really connect what I wanted to say. Sometimes they went off into flights of irrelevancies, or everything became too protracted. As you can see, I’m wordy. And even after the book was accepted, at a late editing stage, I divided a chapter that was ridiculously long into two and deleted another. That’s part of that whole process of creative limbo.

Another thing that took courage was that I thought I had to explain or justify every spiritual principle I referred to. (I couldn’t escape my academic upbringing.) That’s why the book has so many endnotes. It required much research and web combing. And I must say the publisher and the editors were wonderful about even catching me in some of the citations and lack of them and wanted more, which is interesting because this publisher is not an academic publisher. But they accepted what I needed to do and even prompted me to do more and to do better.

The book also required courage in relation to the points you talk about in one of your blogs. The excellent, Sarah, one called “21 Fears That Will Kill Your Dreams if You Let Them” (2013). You remember that one, don’t you? You quote Marianne Williamson, who incidentally is a very big proponent and explainer of the Course in Miracles, about the fear of our own greatness. “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us” (A Return to Love, p. 190).  As we let our own light shine and overcome our fears, she says, we give permission for others to do similarly. So this idea comes back to my initial impetus for the book—to break through my own fears and help others do the same.

Another fear that took courage for me with Trust Your Life, as you also point out in your “21 Fears,” was that of being seen. I’m introspective like so many of us, and I’ve always had the oxymoronic twin emotions of desire for fame and fear of being seen. So coming out, so to speak, in a literary and publicity sense, took courage.

Another related fear was of self-disclosure, telling my story. It certainly wasn’t as dramatic as someone in an abusive or incestuous relationship, but did I really want everyone to know I was a typist? That I hardly used my overeducation for a long time? People may not know that I have a doctorate from Columbia University, and I’ve also for many years been an editor and consultant to doctoral candidates completing their dissertations. Now, I didn’t get to that for quite a while. I started typing. Today and for a long time, I have been using my overeducation, but I didn’t for quite a few years. Also, did I want readers to know I struggled with writing and not publishing for so long? That I didn’t make a literary splash at twenty like some peers of mine? All of those were considerations. I’m sure you know we have to have the courage to put ourselves out there on the page. Unless we’re writing fantasy, but that’s another discussion.

And finally, writing the book and taking all those steps to publishing meant I had to overcome another rather large fear that I wrote about in a guest blog on Pen and Prosper. That essay is called “Deserving our Writing Dreams” (March 29, 2013). Maybe it’s paradoxical, but how can we stand deserving what we really say we want and maybe have lived and worked for our whole lives? How could I stand the joy of writing what I wanted to, not knowing it would get published anywhere, or reach any hearts, or make any money? It’s that delicious, chocolate-covered -cherry joy of doing it. Could I stand that kind of happiness? Did I deserve it? The answer continues to be Yes, but know I’m working on a more resounding YES. That takes the ultimate courage.

SLW: Those are things that people don’t normally think about, but when you point them out, they’re true. The courage to enjoy something when so much of the world is telling us that life is supposed to be hard. You’re supposed to be miserable, and how dare you take a vacation? So what you’re saying is absolutely true.

NS: Right. Especially when you’ve had the desire to do what you love all your life, and you’ve gone in other directions. Then you finally say, I’ve had enough. I want to come back, I must come back. You said that, did you not, when you changed careers?

SLW: Yes, I did. Especially with writing, people tell you you’re not supposed to set your own schedule. You’re supposed to go to work unhappy everyday like everybody else does.

So now we’re going to tackle a pretty big question. A lot of people think this is one of those questions that can’t ever really be answered. But if you would like to try, how would you define courage, and along with that, how would you define courageous content?

NS: Wow. You’re merciless. Well, I see your own blogs on courage, and they really are profound, Sarah. As you and others have proved, I think courage is sometimes not doing, as you with letting go of teaching. Or, as in relationships, it’s not harping at or correcting a partner. Sometimes courage is letting oneself feel emotions, horrible or joyful, instead of shutting them out with surface activities or concerns. I know that we touched on it earlier, but I would say more universally, courage is doing what we clearly fear doing, especially when our first reaction is this: “I couldn’t possibly do that.”

For example, I used to be afraid to speak to a store manager about an unsatisfactory product. I would lie awake nights rehearsing what I’d say and work up to it by degrees. As I kept doing it, it got easier. Now I complain without a second thought.

Courage, I think, is doing what you must for your own self-assertion, you sense of self, your sense of deserving, your soul, your life purpose, the complete use of your talents, and your happiness.

Again, the examples can be displayed in different ways: apologizing after you’ve given an elaborate dissertation on why you were right, talking back about your real feelings, returning a library book after two years and facing up to the fines, putting back the pen from the office you stashed into your pocket, and, of course, taking even a first step toward your dream.

We haven’t talked much about that subtitle of the book, but almost everything about the book or in it is focused on helping people reach and achieve what they really, really, really want to do, whether they know it at this moment or not. And if they don’t know it, the book is full of exercises and tools to help them get there. All of that takes courage, maybe even to read such a book and do a few of the exercises.

When your Inner Voice harangues and prods you, you know you must do it, despite all the rational reasons, the economic bottom lines, the relatives’ headshaking, and maybe the friends imploring you even to grow up. Again, I admire you, Sarah, for taking that step.

I would recommend a career coach who’s well known now. She’s highly inspirational, and she’s a spiritual life coach as well—Tama Kieves. She had the ultimate courage and describes it in her first book. Consider this title: This Time I Dance!: Creating the Work You Love So here she was, having graduated from Harvard with honors, having become a big-time corporate lawyer with a big-time income in a big-time firm, and she was miserable. She quit and became gradually the life and career coach that she is now. She’s been at it for many years, and her writing and seminars are just terrific. She has a second book out now too, and I encourage people to explore her material (

So, to define courageous content, as you asked: Again as you observe in your own work, it’s writing about or saying what your first impulse or reaction is to hide, ignore, or deny.

SLW: Those are extremely profound answers. I think we have gotten so much value just in this short time that we’ve been able to talk. So I want to end with a more personal question, and ask you this:  Would you say that all your dreams have come true at this point? If not, what are you still dreaming about? And considering that you talk in the book about living as though we already are where we want to be, is that even a valid question?

NS: My dreams have not all come true. I believe with another New Age teaching that happens to be an energy and entity called Abraham (, as well as anthropologists and sociologists and psychologists, is that built into the human is the constant desire and striving for improvement, creativity, development, and accomplishment. So, when one of my dreams is fulfilled, and even before, such as publishing a non-fiction book like this, or publishing articles, I’m creating another dream. And my next dream, and this takes courage, I have to tell you, because I’ve been avoiding it, is writing and publishing novels. Fiction was always my first love. So, as the dream of writing more has manifested and balanced more with my client work, the dream of writing even more is worked on.

Your question about living as though we already are where we want to be is certainly valid, and maybe produces a paradox. That is, having goals and living in the present don’t have to be contradictory. I like what the spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle says in The Power of Now. We seem to be living in internal and external worlds of internal and external realities. So living in the Now means not ruminating about the past or fearfully or excitedly anticipating the external future. That doesn’t rule out goals, though.

Living in the now means, as Tolle says, “You will not have illusory expectations that anything or anybody in the future will save you or make you happy” (The Power of Now, p. 69). That’s the trouble so often with goal orientation and acting “as if.” You know, the “when-then” habit: When I get famous, rich, married, lose ten pounds, then I’ll feel good, deserving, important, and on and on.

Tolle also points out, as many spiritual teachers have, that when we live in the Now and as if we are complete and whole and do what we love with complete emotional and spiritual investment, the so- called future takes care of itself. So in the present, as we feel internally famous, rich, loved, deserving now, that’s what we become externally, again in the Now.

One of the big lessons for all of us is that the internal governs the external. Our minds, our thoughts, our emotions govern and, I’ll even go as far as saying, create our external experiences. This may be difficult for a lot of people to take. Oh it’s just luck! Life happens! I totally reject those declarations and beliefs because we are creators of our experiences. And as Louise Hay says, “It’s only a thought.” We can change our experience with thoughts. As we fulfill our internal desiresand leanings by doing what we love and being fully conscious, even when there might be a time lag, we cannot help but experience the fruition.

That’s how we reach, enjoy, and savor our dreams.

SLW: Excellent. So, that is all for the interview. Dr. Noelle. I love the book and enjoyed the interview just as much. It was great to actually get to talk to you and have a conversation. I’m sure that whoever hears this interview or reads the transcribed version is going to find a lot of value from that. Hopefully they’ll go a step further and get the book for themselves and check out the other books and authors that you’ve mentioned. If you have any closing remarks that you’d like to say, please do, and then we’ll say goodbye for now.

NS: I thank you, Sarah, for your appreciation, your understanding, and your thrust and your desire to know and know and know. Your questions are penetrating and important. I know you’ll reach whatever you want to and fulfill your potential. So, it’s been a true pleasure to be with you today.

I’m happy to answer any questions through your site, that people may have about today’s interview or the book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams. And I invite visits to my website

Author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne writes fiction and nonfiction, publishing over 300 pieces published in print and online venues, including Funds for Writers, Pen and Prosper, The Writer, Writer’s Digest, ReadLearnWrite, Women on Writing, Transformation Magazine, 11.11, and Unity booklets.Her monthly column, “Bloom Where You’re Writing,” appears in Coffeehouse for Writers. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, for over 28 years Noelle has helped doctoral candidates complete their dissertations (finally), with a psychological-spiritual handbook in progress. In her book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books; one of ten best 2011 ebooks), she draws examples from her practice and other aspects of life to help writers and others release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. See Noelle’s website: With Trust Your Life, Noelle appears in the Unity Books 2013 “Summer of Self-Discovery” on Goodreads with two other authors of positive messages for discussions and free webcasts here. Starting in May 2013, Noelle will be one of five featured authors on Author Magazine’s ongoing blog, exploring writing, creativity, and spirituality.