Lessons from a Fearless Female

Cindy Healy (pictured) is one #FearlessFemale

On my very first day of coaching training, I met Cindy Healy, and right away her energy drew me in. I didn’t know anything about her except that she was warm, personable and engaging. So I sat next to her that day, and pretty much every day after that during our training program. She quickly became a mentor to me, even though we were both in the same stages of our coaches training. She’s knowledgeable, eloquent, brave and most of all, fun. She’s the kind of person who asks you a question and really listens to the answer. The more I learned about Cindy, the more I admired her.

And what I learned about her was pretty amazing! Cindy has an impressive resume, which boasts over 25 years of experience in technology and leadership. For the past 13 years, she has held various leadership roles at Microsoft, including her current role as Director, Microsoft Worldwide Learning Experiences. And if that weren’t enough (it totally is!), she worked at Napster and Movielink before joining Microsoft, leading teams who were among the first to deliver secure digital media over the internet.

Oh, and she worked on the NASA Mars Pathfinder project. Yeah, you read that right. She was on the team that put a spacecraft on Mars. #badass

More recently, Cindy launched (space pun intended) another phase of her career, becoming a certified professional coach and keynote speaker.

During a walk and lunch date, Cindy and I got to talking about fear. Fear, she said, is something we never fully conquer, but instead, if we work at it, we can develop the tools to reach for to overcome our fears. This got the wheels turning in my head, so a few weeks later, Cindy sat down with me to turn this week's #FierceFemaleFriday into a #FearlessFemaleFriday (note it’s not about the absence of fear, but rather having less of it.)

Here are five key lessons from this #FFF that you don’t have to be a software engineer on a space mission to implement in your own life:

1. Get Curious About Your Fear

“First of all, I have fear allthe time,” Cindy clarifies with a laugh. “I think I’ve learned how to recognize it and get curious about it rather than react to it… I’m like, ‘What’s that about?’”

To do this, she says, you have to know what fear feelslike. Often, Cindy says fear shows up as our fight or flight response. We want to turn our back on someone; flee a situation that feels uncomfortable and scary; or pick a fight. When you recognize that response, it’s a perfect time to ask yourself what is reallygoing on inside. Tapping into your emotions can help you determine how to move forward: “’This makes me uncomfortable—maybe I should choose a different path.’ Or maybe it’s ‘this makes me uncomfortable—maybe I should be leaning into this.’ Or maybe ‘I should be walking away from this.’” Cindy explains that tapping into the emotions under your fear can help us avoid harmful situations and because of that, “fear can be a good thing.”

2. Dare to Dream Something Audacious. (Even—and especially—when others think you can’t achieve it!)

Cindy recounted to me the first time she won The Moth storytelling competition (she’s won twice! Watch her in action here), she told the story of her role on the Pathfinder launch team. “I guess that’s a pretty unique story,” she said. YES CINDY IT IS.

But since most of us will never be part of a space launch team, I was curious to know what the biggest takeaway she had from the whole experience.

For Cindy, it was what possible when you dare to dream big. “Everyone thought we couldn’t do it,” Cindy recalled about the Pathfinder project. “Not the team, but outsiders. All the ‘they’—‘they’ thought we couldn’t do it. Everyone on the team didn’t know better—we believed it—we just worked to make it happen.”

“Dare to dream something that is audacious. It’s out of the box. It’s bigger than you are. Literally, people at the Jet Propulsion Lab [the agency Cindy worked for during the NASA Mars Pathfinder launch] refused to work on the project. They thought it would ruin their careers because it was going to be a disaster. Not just not successful-- a disaster. It was very threatening to people that they wanted to do it so cheap and so fast. People were like ‘ugh, those idiots’ kind of a thing.”

And while yes, this advice helped Cindy launch a spacecraft to Mars, it can also help you in your everyday life, she says. “I have to catch myself when I’m thinking small.” Instead of setting smaller goals, Cindy suggests aiming for BIG goals. “If I have this big goal, when opportunities present themselves that pave the way to this big goal, I’m more likely to do them.”

So even when something feels big and hard but still exciting—try to avoid the negative clutter from all of ‘them’ who say you can’t, and look for smaller opportunities that help you achieve that big, audacious goal.

3. Get Out of Your Lane!

In addition to setting your own big goals, be aware of other people’s perceptions and expectations of you—-and don’t be limited by that! “Recogniz[e] when someone else is thinking small for you,” Cindy recommends. “

This is something I see with clients all the time in my coaching practice. They’ll come to coaching really wanting to achieve something major and transformative—like losing 25 pounds—but get swayed by other people who tell them that is out of their reach. Scared to aim for their own goals, they cave and drop their goal to losing five pounds. NO! Both Cindy and I agree, if you want to lose 25 pounds, set your goals as a 25 pound weight loss. Maybe you’ll need to break that 25 pounds into smaller, five pound increments, but don’t stop at the five pounds.

This is also something Cindy has experienced in her own life. When asked what was the worst advice she ever received, she surprised me with her answer:

“You better get in the kitchen and learn how to cook because you’re going to be someone’s wife someday,” she said. “And really that is all you’re going to be.”

Cindy explains that this advice, which came from her parents, was just someone trying to put her in her lane. “They weren’t trying to be mean,” she says, “they just had low expectations. ’Why would you think that you could be something besides somebody’s wife?’”

Instead of limiting people or shutting them down, she says, she looks for ways to help them see whatispossible. And often times, that means getting out of the lane (or kitchen) that’s been designated for you.

4. Know Why You Want Something

In addition to setting those big goals, it’s essential to tap into why you want to achieve a certain goal. For example, knowing you want to lose 25 pounds to improve your flexibility or lower your cholesterol might help you stick with a diet or exercise plan more than just making the goal of losing weight.

Cindy asks clients what they really want out of life, and then why they want it. Honing in on that reasoning helps make the goal more attainable and real. Then, once the 'why' is locked in, she’ll have a client tell her what would someone who was on track to achieve that goal would do next. This helps get clients out of their heads and past any preconceived notions about a certain course of action that they should take.

5. Be in Touch With Your Physiological Response

For Cindy, being in tune with her body and its response to emotions, including fear, is one of the ways she deals with situations that make her nervous or uncomfortable. For example, Cindy, who has spoken in front of hundreds of people for work and pleasure often still gets nervous before her public speaking engagements.

Taking a moment to connect with her body and what’s going on with it is part of the way she centers herself and preps for her talks.

“Hey, I’m about to get up in front of 200 strangers and it’s normal my heart is beating fast. And it’s normal that I’m starting to sweat a little bit or I’m starting to feel flushed.”

Then, Cindy says, it’s all about working to make her body feel a little less anxious. To do this, she turns to advice she picked up in one of her favorite TED Talks by Amy Cuddy.

“If I have a chance before I speak, I will literally stand off to the side, put my hands on my hips, put my feet shoulder width apart and do deep breathing to try to slow my heart rate down.” Even as Cindy describes this process, her voice drops a bit and her cadence becomes slower and steadier. I can almost imagine her, on her treadmill desk, stopping to strike this “Superwoman Pose.”

“And I tell myself, ‘This is going to be so fun!’” Her voice rises and she begins to laugh. The transformation is complete—she’s ready to take the stage!


PS you can catch Cindy LIVE in action next month! Get tickets to the Museum of Flight A.M. Flight Breakfast on 10/19