I spend hours and hours in cello lessons. Not that I pay attention – I answer emails a lot of the time. But there’s no way to not learn if you sit in enough lessons, and the big thing I’ve learned is being a great performer takes guts.

I knew that was true about gymnastics. My editor has a daughter who maybe was on track for the Olympics, but at some point he realized she wasn’t willing to try the crazy, daredevil moves required to compete at that level.

It’s similar in music. You have to let yourself go and trust that the notes will be there. But not everyone has the guts to perform like that. I get it now. After sitting through a gazillion lessons and reading a gazillion posts from Noa Kageyama about being brave in performance, I see there is memorizing a song and then there’s having the guts to play a song with your heart.

It’s true with work, too. Each day I wake up and I hope I’ll have the guts to write a blog post. Do not send me topic ideas – I have a million: Like, in the future work teams will be flash mobs, which is very consistent with super-temps who move in an out of the project-based workforce.

I could write more about that. But it’ll be boring. Writing with guts means not just being right, but showing fear. It’s being vulnerable in front of the reader by wholly committing to something and letting everyone see you try to get it.

For you, it is probably something at work. But it might not be. If you relocate twice for a girlfriend, you are showing guts in the relationship department. You are not even married and you’re probably killing your career for hers.

For me, right now, being wholly committing is telling you about my new company. Every day I worry that I can’t give you the link to my company’s web site because I’m scared it won’t work. I need you to do this company with me. I have to build something you like in order to get it off the ground. What if you don’t like it? I ruined my life getting three rounds of funding for Brazen Careerist. My kids lived in a house with no electricity while I grew the company. Insane. I can’t let this happen again.

Yet I am. I got funding for a new company. I hired four employees. And tons of contractors. While my son plays Bach.

I don’t know if this means I have the guts or I don’t have the guts for this new company. But I know that everything I’ve ever done that I’m proud of in my life was something that took a lot of guts. There was no rational reason to think it would work out well, and I did it anyway. Here’s what it takes in the guts area:

1. You have to know where you’ll have guts. No one has guts in lots of areas, but only in the area where you stand out. My son has guts in music, but he spent five months learning a back flip and never trusted his hands completely. Find your place where you’re special. Maybe you’re great with people. Or writing, or coding. Find what you’re great at, and take your big risks there.

2. Don’t ask other people if you have guts. It looks like I have guts to move to the farm. I was living in LA and NYC and then, all of a sudden I met a farmer in rural Wisconsin and my kids and I moved there. The culture shock is a daily thing for me here, but it didn’t take guts because I had nowhere else to go. My family is scattered and riddled with drama. And I was in love with the farmer. My job lets me live anywhere, and I have. So moving to a rural community was not that big a deal for me. I remind myself all the time that this was not something that took guts. It’s something I was dying to do.

3. There must be something at stake. If you have guts, you are letting people see you fail – big. They might see that. Because what we have to lose, ultimately, is our idea of ourselves that we are good at what we are risking. We might have to reframe our idea of ourself. And losing our identity takes a lot of guts.

I don’t want to be here again. I am too scared. But I am here. There is going to come a time, when I’m doing this company, where I will have to tell you how great it is. Right now, I don’t have to do that. I can tell you that behind every great anything is a person who is scared.

Every time I hear an incredible musician, I think about the bravery they play with and I want that to be me. I want to open my heart and show you the best that I can do with this company and not be fearful that I’ll fail. No great music came from fear, and that’s true of careers as well.


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51 replies
  1. C.W.
    C.W. says:

    “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” – attributed to John Augustus Shedd on Wikiquote.

    Penelope, your willingness to take (sensible) chances, with everything that you have been through, inspires me to do the same.

  2. Brian Hanley
    Brian Hanley says:

    I am in the process of going independent and truly working for myself and my family. This post could not have been written at a better time. Thank you so much. Time to take that leap and trust….

  3. Kitty
    Kitty says:

    I am here with you! Struggling today with the cowardly side of my gut which is suggesting I just call the whole thing off and accept that I may not ever be a writer in the creative side of things….. the truth is, the world would move on either way.

    It’s impossible to know if I’m doing something good or just doing something because (I keep telling myself) no one knows how to help me find my direction or even knows much about providing feedback. It’s a personal story I wrote, based in my kitchen as my daughter married her combat soldier at the time Iraq was breaking out. It is one story of how someone from the 99% of Americans who know nothing about war – moves kicking and screaming into the 1% who shoulder the burden of these wars. I know it needs to be told. I can feel the inner gut drive everytime I try to turn away from it. But I moving forward in the dark and it’s scary.

    Saturday is the second reading of my play. Friends are gathering to listen or read a part in it so I can record it for even more intense late night editing sessions. What for? Who knows? Maybe nothing. Today, I’m working up the courage to let loose to fall.

  4. Jacque
    Jacque says:

    Your ability to power through your fears to actually take action on your brilliant ideas while telling all of us the truth about them is exactly what makes you so inspiring. Thank you!

  5. Jean
    Jean says:

    Fear is a choice….danger is real, but it’s up to you to decide how to approach danger. As I get older, I find that I have more and more confidence in my ability to get through anything and my fear of the unknown, of failure, of rejection slowly dissipates.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      It’s so true that the more we practice being scared in the face of danger the less we need the fear part. I think people get more brave as they get older as long as they did the work when they were younger. There is no way of having personal growth without doing it in the face of danger. Growth and danger look like they have a linear relationship to me.


  6. Michael Aumock
    Michael Aumock says:

    Wonderful post, Penelope!
    Fear is the “galvanizer” that many of us need to move forward. While it freezes the masses in their tracks, it helps those of us with guts see clearly and know which direction we need to go in order to move forward.
    Fear (controlled) distills the challenges before us and gives us clarity of purpose.

  7. Kathy
    Kathy says:

    I just wrote an ebook about why you must share your ‘back story’ and you no doubt have always had a transparency about you that makes people appreciate the effort hearing your back story regardless of the consequence.
    You want it to be great. It most likely is great…but even if not so much, it would have taken nothing to not try. Going with your guts is dangerous and sometimes a bigger leap of faith than we bargain for, but then who wants to just ride the roller coaster around and around in circles and miss the dips and the thrills.
    Loved the post. Probably will love the new company too. I love people who have the guts to “come clean” and try again.

  8. Larry Hochman
    Larry Hochman says:

    Penelop, as I read your magnificent post, I thought of my daughter. She’s 17 and a senior at a performing arts high school. She knew from a young age the kind of voice she, and never considered it an act of bravery to sing. She had to, or her teeth would explode from her mouth.

    But acting and dancing is something that came less naturally to her. It took work, and the very real possibility she would fail…publicly.

    We grow, prosper and are thrilled with our lives to the extent that our senses tell us we’re alive. Sometimes that takes a lot of guts. Thank you for this profound work.

  9. Jean
    Jean says:

    This post resonates with me. Today I tried to write you an e-mail to your mailbag, but I was too afraid to send it. I told you when I first came across your blog 1 year ago, I was 25, newly displaced in the military life, coming off of 3 internships (working with manatees, aquarium volunteers, and an international center that hosted guests to promote cultural understanding) and ready to jump into a career I could care about. But when I got here to Hawaii, I realized I was dealing with the change in today’s world of career building and also an oligarchy.
    I value your viewpoint on education (and even homeschooling! But I’m not a parent yet) and careers. Your blog is what helped me go through 6 months of unemployment and a serious career identity crisis. Anyway, now I am working in a different field that puts me to sleep and I can’t get a job I care about. But I’m still reading your blog and I’ll be damned if every post doesn’t continue to help me and validate my position. So thank you for continuing to post and even though this blog isn’t your biggest passion, it touches my life with such relevance every time.

  10. Michael Feeley
    Michael Feeley says:

    Wow, Wow, Wow, Wow, WOW!

    This is totally amazing and sets me on fire Penelope.

    Cello – lessons – letting yourself go – writing and living with guts – new company.

    You can do it Penelope. You do it all the time and I’ll support you…and many others will too…to encourage you in every way with your new company! Let it rip. Dig deep and trust yourself and fire away. You are so worth it!

    Yes. Fear is there. Uncertainty and all that yuk BUT…try this. Think about your mission.

    – What are you after?

    – What is YOUR specific mission, purpose, quest in opening a new company?

    – What do you want?

    – How will it benefit people and the world?

    Let that answer lead you right through your fear. Your answers are the truth and the truth always annihilates fear.

    ‘I Penelope Truck want this_________ and I’m going after it! Walking right thorough my fears. I’ve survived before and I’ll do it again because my heart is in it.”

    It’s what you say at the end of your post – “I want to open my heart and show you the best thing that I can do…” There it is…’I CAN DO.” That’s your power.

    I’m a Life & Career Coach and my mission is to have every person I meet find out what they want to do with their lives. To really dig in, figure it out, find exactly what they want and then go after getting it. It’s totally possible.

    Do what you do best Penelope.

    You have the guts. It’s in every post you write…it’s in your move to Wisconsin…your love for your family and your dear farmer husband.

    Please – Let me know how I can be useful. I’ll do my complete best for you. You’re asking for something and I hope to be useful.

    My very best – Michael

  11. Jake Karger
    Jake Karger says:

    Right right right right!! I talk with my clients about the high level of personal courage it takes to be an excellent manager. Managers don’t do any real work – the staff does all the work and they are the guts of the company. Great Managers – and there are few of them – advocate, protect, lead and most importantly, truth teller. “telling the truth to power” takes real guts.

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is such an insightful way to describe the job of a manager. Thanks, Jake. A good manager makes people more brave. I think that’s why management seems so hard to new managers – because they want it to be about something beside bravery and vulnerability. Anything else would be so much easier, of course (micromanaging anyone?) but not nearly as rewarding.


  12. Teresa D
    Teresa D says:

    Absolutely terrific post! I had been in the same career for more than 20 years. Suddenly, my boss decided he was going to ask me to do something different that requires me to be in the spotlight. I am an introvert, and this is HUGELY uncomfortable. I want to run far from it, but I spend every day trying to psych myself up for the “show”. My long term plan is to move into graphic recording/writting/blogging from my home so I can move with my familiy to an area with a lower cost of living. In the meantime, I push myself to take these risks each day so I can catapult these experiences into a career that fits me. Phew! I feel your pain and admire everything you are putting out there.

  13. Samantha Jane
    Samantha Jane says:

    guts.. last year I Ieft my husband after twenty years of marriage. 10 years before that I had left a well paid job as video editor for a national TV channel to raise our two children so when I separated I was jobless and was no longer living in the city. I am running three jobs which make half a salary and investing all my free time on a non-profit business project to get small biomass run generators to villages in Africa. On the good days it looks like everything is going to work out for the best and on the bad days I feel like an irresponsible crazy woman (and mother) for daring to try and build an extraordinary life.. will let you know how it turns out, but hold thumbs for me and I will for you!

  14. Chris
    Chris says:

    In 3 days, I will be testing for my black belt in Tae Kwon Do–at age 67. I am scared. I am feeling reinforced about pushing through the fear by this post, Penelope. You have inspired me many times, but this time is a biggie.

    I recognize vulnerability, making my fear visible in a public way. I am no stranger to going completely blank–extreme performance anxiety. I am going to test anyway. I am going to show up, stand up and do my damnedest.

    I have done the practicing. I hope the testing board of grandmasters will look beyond my fear, my thick middle, my tipsy balance and see my passion and commitment.

    • Adam Muller
      Adam Muller says:

      Chris, I think you are incredible. I’m inspired by your courage to continue on despite the presence of fear, instead of waiting for fear to dissipate before going after something you want. I dig it so much.


  15. Chris M.
    Chris M. says:

    Fear doesn’t define us so much as how we handle it- of course handling it is always easier said than done.

  16. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    The title got me excited first, this was just what I needed at a time I seem to be making decisions that see me settling back into more comfortable but less fulfilling work. And reading on it was beautiful, inspiring and then with the mention of the new company I was sure it would culminate in a glorious reveal of the new company, shared despite the fears… But then it ended, nothing, a damp squib…
    Then cynicism starts creeping in… is this all just part of some genius marketing strategy to drop hints, build suspense and have us chomping at the bit until we finally get the big reveal at some pre-determined date on a plan somewhere?
    No, it is really just debilitating fear? From someone who has always struck me as fearless. I guess that’s the difference, not the absence of fear but feeling the fear and doing it anyway.

    • Adam Muller
      Adam Muller says:

      Tracy, I think what you highlighted is profound:

      “I guess that’s the difference, not the absence of fear but feeling the fear and doing it anyway.”

      It resonates deeply.


  17. Ellen
    Ellen says:

    I just finally took the Math Subject GRE, after fifteen years of procrastinating. Working was so much more comfortable than doing what I know I was born to do. Committing myself means exposing myself to the risk of failure. Not committing myself means condemning myself to a life of mediocrity. Not an option.

    Thanks for the wonderful post.

  18. Marnie
    Marnie says:

    Wonderful post:). My favorite blog posts are always the ones that have been written from the heart. Even if the writing is terrible, the emotions can’t help but find their way through. I’ve written some BORING posts about important things that I couldn’t care less about. Always work from the heart:)

  19. Kael
    Kael says:

    This is a fantastic post, but what would you put for point #4 if there was going to be another point to follow through with?

    Thank you for putting this message together for us

  20. Lucy Chen
    Lucy Chen says:

    Dear Penelope,

    These incredible musicians, they are brave, and they have faith, in whatever.

    One way I look at failure is that if I do not take action to fulfill my mission, then one day, I’ll end up being the biggest failure every – failing my whole life. Because this is my biggest fear, every other so-called failures are tiny in comparison. The worst is regret. And you won’t have regret if you take action to move toward your dream.

    The other way to look at failure, one that I just learned from Gary Vaynerchuk’s interview with Chris Brogan, and that has stuck with me since, is this. Failure is like a scar on a fighter’s face, it is a badge of honor! How great is that!

    I remember first came across you when I just graduated and got a job in a big bank. I used to read your column on Yahoo Finance. I’ve lost the connection with you for a long time. And look where I find you, after 10 years! I admire you! I know you are brave! Just as you know you are!


  21. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt
    Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt says:

    You don’t want to die without doing the things you could have done.

    Every day I sit down at the computer and work on a massive fiction project I’ve been working on for 13 years.

    Every Tuesday I put a new polished scene out onto the blog – where anyone in the world can read it. The commitment to finish it publicly is the leap of faith: I want it finished, and I WILL do it.

    Nobody will care if I fail – but I will care very much if I succeed.

    Even people dealing with disability can do things: I write.

  22. keriman
    keriman says:

    After sitting through a gazillion lessons and reading a gazillion posts from Noa Kageyama about being brave in performance, I see there is memorizing a song and then there’s having the guts to play a song with your heart.

  23. John Vespasian
    John Vespasian says:

    A well-written article, but I must disagree with the message. I don’t think that it is good advice to recommend people to enter professions where there is one chance in a thousand of making a living. For most people, this is not a good idea.

  24. Lenore Lambert
    Lenore Lambert says:

    Comfort is the enemy of learning.

    Courage is acting with purpose in fear.

    Loved the bit about knowing where you’ll have guts. I’ve never thought of that before because I have it in lots of places. However when I think about it there is a ‘spike’ and it points me in the same direction as all other arrows. All roads lead to Rome. Why won’t I leave the cross-road?! It’s not fear of failure.

  25. Julia
    Julia says:

    I have already looked at your company and I cant wait to sign up for the Dream Job course! I love love it and it’s something I was hoping your company was about actually- providing tools, guidance and dialogue to others in find fulfilling career paths! I have been so confused about job stuff and your blog has given me some sanity in a world that seems so insane. Now your new site is really giving me hope that I can find a career I love. Can’t wait to sign up!! You took a risk in something your good at and love doing and I am so grateful for it :D

  26. Liz
    Liz says:

    A lot of this post has similarities to Jeff Nelsen’s Fearless Performance seminars (look up Indiana University music school). It’s interesting to me to see the same threads appear in entrepreneurship, business, education and other enterprises. Thanks for sharing your version!

  27. Naz Laila
    Naz Laila says:

    Penelope you are so right about Fear blocking our greatest performance. And yes it is so true about gymnastic. My 7 year-old daughters loves gymnastic and last year before her first ever competition, she was very excited and for a month every Saturday she woke up and asked Mum is it today. On the actual day I asked her, “are you little bit scared” and she replied, “ scared!!! Why mum? I am very excited”. She was so happy and natural on the floor and loved every bit of the day. Now when I read this post it makes perfect sense. Now my biggest challenge is not to install my own fear into her.

  28. Sharyn
    Sharyn says:

    I’ve spent my whole life “thinking” and not doing anything because I’m afraid of looking foolish or failing. Sadly, I’ve seen some of this reproduced in my children. Thanks for speaking to my “guts” and inspiring me to do something exhilarating…and break the cycle.

  29. Accenture Careers
    Accenture Careers says:

    You draw a great distinction when you say, “You have to know where you’ll have guts.’ It’s easy to generalize and think I don’t have guts, period. But when you break it down further, your exactly right.
    Identifying the “where” really is a big key. When I played sports, I never wanted the ball, and I never wanted to be in high-pressure situations. In social situations, I have a hard time keeping a conversation going, but when I’m a volunteer counselor, I’m surprisingly bold when it comes to helping people resolve their issues. I learned something new about myself today.
    Thank you!

  30. Biron Clark
    Biron Clark says:

    Very inspiring article! I saw this posted on LinkedIn and I’m really glad I clicked through because I definitely needed some motivation and thought-provoking ideas today.

  31. rhonda
    rhonda says:

    . Guts. I share many parts of your story. And why I come back to your blog is because I like your mind, relate to your heart. You think and teach others your talents.
    The school is brilliant and you are being a good steward, regardless of monetary success or failure, its existence offers a level or extension of success. It has made this community think. The rest will come.

    Personally, this post is deeply insightful. Like yourself, I make moves that seem unimaginable to others and myself. I am on some level, a little or a lot afraid of failure…and it feels like total failure, not like I would redirect. My fears don’t come through and speak rationally, no. They tell me the whole ship will sink.

    I am at a transition point. Much excitement, and much expectation. And I really do not know what’s going happen. I can only be open.

    I am open to new things and in that I am taking a risk. I would sincerely and deeply violate my conscience if I held back.

    I think about your posts. Others with courage. And I just do it. I make myself continue. Success may be reached differently than what I understand today. It is a process and a journey.

    Thank you for being part of mine and including me in yours.

  32. Jenn
    Jenn says:

    I recently took a huge risk, and I failed. Circumstances and environment played a role in my failure, but none the less,I failed. It sucked. I found out I was not really a risk taker in that way. That makes me sad and yes, rethink who it is I think I am. I’m still here though and life has seemed to proceed on. And yes people saw me fail and some judged me.

  33. Spencer B. Crum
    Spencer B. Crum says:

    I have played music for the past 25 yrs and have seen people with apparently no musically ability excel simply because they were willing to put in the time and effort to become great. The process can be sped up with natural abliity-but anyone can succeed if willing.

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