By Drew McLellan
When I held my infant daughter Kelsey for the first time, I distinctly remember pressing my lips to her forehead and thinking, “I will protect you forever.”
I had never done this parenting thing before, and it took me a while to accept that I actually couldn’t protect her forever. Instead, I would need to help her learn how to protect herself. To protect her spirit. To protect her confidence. To protect her heart. The threats to those turned out to be the real boogeyman out there.
I was completely caught off guard by all the landmines she’d face as a girl, a young woman and now as an adult. I naively worried about strangers putting her in harm’s way. Little did I know.
I didn’t want my daughter to have a contained, “be seen but not heard” life. I wanted her to have unbridled triumphs and take scary risks and to love unabashedly. I wanted her to confidently speak her mind, to take a stand for what she believed in, and to be recognized and rewarded for her gifts and accomplishments.
Just like boys and men get.
I had no idea how to raise a daughter to be fearless. But fortunately, she did. As she navigated through her life, she encountered roadblocks. Biases. Stereotypes. She was told she couldn’t, or she shouldn’t. Or worse – she should. Traps and cages lined her path. Each one a boundary, set to keep her from being all she was capable of being.
At the dinner table, we’d dissect those boundaries. We played a game called “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” We’d imagine her pushing back on whatever was in her way and envision how it might go off the rails. What truly was the worst possible outcome? What we discovered together was that, in most cases, the worst outcome was to comply with the constraint in front of her.
And so, she learned to be brave. Bit by bit. Experience by experience. She got comfortable being uncomfortable if it mattered enough. She realized that no one was going to fight alongside her if she didn’t start the fight. She challenged the status quo and she led with her heart, on behalf of herself and others.
She talked to a teacher who graded her unfairly. She drew boundaries with family members. She got politically invested in causes she believed in. She had tough conversations with roommates. She did a double back on her education because she could not and would not settle.
My daughter learned that being fearless isn’t about not being afraid or anxious. It’s about being afraid but not letting that fear or anxiety become yet another boundary.
She joined an improv group in college, and I can remember watching her first performance. They get on that stage and just trust in themselves. No script. No idea where the moment will take them or what the other people on stage will say or do. It’s like free falling. In front of an audience. I remember watching her, marveling at her courage. I wouldn’t have done it in a million years. And there was my brave, funny, totally-comfortable-in-her-own-skin daughter, boldly sharing herself with the world. She was fearless.
We set a goal to travel to every continent before she was done with school. She has scaled Machu Picchu, she has bathed in a river with a herd of elephants, and she has braved a violent Antarctic storm on what felt like a very small vessel at the time. All along the way, she embraced each new experience and culture with curiosity and empathy. She was fearless.
Kelsey graduated with honors from nursing school in May of 2020. She stepped into a job as a hospital floor nurse as COVID was ravaging our country and doctors and nurses were on the front lines. She wanted to care for people who were scared and alone. She was fearless.
Because of her journey, I am more fearless. I’ll probably never reach her level of proficiency, but I’m working on it. We still play the “what’s the worst thing that could happen” game because life isn’t done throwing boundaries at her.
But what we’ve both learned is the worst thing that can happen is her not being true to herself. To let anyone diminish who she is or what she believes is right or true.
She has learned that tenacity blended with tenderness is a potent combination and when she approaches any situation with both, she is unstoppable.
My daughter Kelsey is fearless, and the world is better for it.
Drew McLellan is the owner of McLellan Marketing Group and writes a weekly column about marketing for the Business Record.