Many of us struggle to speak up or step up when opportunity knocks. It can be difficult to try something new, share ideas, or take on greater responsibility. One reason for this is that we often don’t feel safe. We are plagued by the “what if’s,” fearing that we will get it wrong. Recently, a talented leader, who wants to grow in his career, shared with me, “If I just stay at this company, doing this one job, I know what to expect, people already respect me, and I’m never asked to do too much.” 

If we want to reach our potential and pursue what truly matters to us, it’s crucial to examine the experiences that have shaped our beliefs about taking risks. By becoming more aware of these formative experiences, we can better understand how they have influenced our views on courage and vulnerability, especially in our efforts to help others succeed. It’s important to recognize that as humans, we tend to recall unpleasant or frightening memories when embarking on new ventures. Ignoring this tendency may inadvertently hinder our personal growth and the growth of those we want to support. 

While not everyone has encountered an experience as extreme as the one I am about to share, it is essential to acknowledge that we all have past experiences that instill fear of making mistakes. Allow me to take you back to when I was just seven years old. Picture me confidently walking across the street to my neighbor’s house, knocking on their door, and politely asking for some food. Little did I know that this seemingly innocent act would set off a series of events. Social services were promptly called, and my parents found themselves caught up in an investigation. Although the details of the interactions between social services, my neighbors, and my parents remain fuzzy in my memory, the message I received from this experience has stayed with me: if I dared to repeat such an action, I could potentially find myself in the care of social services. 

Decades later, I found myself on NASA’s grand stage for their inaugural leadership summit. It was a defining moment in my career, and anxiety consumed me. Instead of taking a chance on my own communication skills, I hired someone to craft the perfect speech and create a flawless PowerPoint. I dedicated months to refining and memorizing every detail. Then, after a great opening, I forgot every word of my speech. Watching members of my audience actively tweeting about my faltering performance, I made a vow to never speak again. But deep down, I knew I couldn’t abandon something I was born to do. I delved deeper into perfectionism, investing thousands on training, only to end up still afraid. 

Somewhere along the way, I had forgotten the very essence of why I was valued and sought after as a speaker and coach. It wasn’t about delivering flawlessly scripted speeches or executing precise gestures. No, it was about sharing my authentic perspective and genuine voice, which requires courage and faith—two attributes I was blessed to strengthen as a result of the pandemic. The absence of physical audience reactions robbed me of my ability to analyze and scrutinize, releasing me from the grip of perfectionism. 

Today, I recognize when perfectionism is grabbing a hold of me, and I meet those fears with compassion, tolerance, and reassurance—I’ve got you, I say to my nervous system, and then I craft my next talk, run it by trusted advisors, and then offer it to the world. Turns out, that is the only way to move toward our potential even though we have fears: belief, support, and courage—three gifts we can offer ourselves, and those on our teams. These 3 simple sentences are the foundation for moving past our fears, into our potential: 

“I believe in you, I’ve got your back, and great job!” 

While we cannot delete anyone’s history (or their fears), we can listen closely to their stories, beliefs, and desires for growth. We can examine the experiences that have shaped our beliefs about taking risks and acknowledge the tendency to recall unpleasant memories. By offering ourselves and others belief, support, and courage, we can move past our fears and unlock our true potential. Remember these three simple sentences: “I believe in you, I’ve got your back, and great job!” These words can be the foundation for overcoming our fears and embracing our potential. So let’s step up, speak up, and pursue what truly matters to us, knowing that we have the support and encouragement we need to succeed.

Misti Burmeister helps companies and leaders motivate and inspire excellence. For nearly 20 years, she has facilitated communication that results in trust, increasing engagement and productivity across generations. Make sure your communication is coming across the way you intend, visit