The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on July 22, 2010.

If I had to choose the three words that best describe me, “fearless” would not be one of them. In fact, it probably wouldn’t be in the top ten, or even 25. So I find it both amusing and amazing that I ended up in a book entitled, Fearless Women, Fearless Wisdom.

The book features the portraits, stories, and words of heartfelt and hard-learned wisdom from forty women entrepreneurs across the United States and in Canada. All of the women were photographed by Mary Ann Halpin, a Hollywood photographer who uses a magnificent silver sword in her photos to symbolize the power of the person holding it. There’s something almost magical about the sword, and about Mary Ann. She gets to know the people she photographs, and truly captures their essence. Even if they don’t yet know what it is.

I had my “fearless photo” taken at the eWomenNetwork Conference last year, and I know firsthand and from other people I have talked to what a powerful and emotional experience it is. Some people wield the sword as if they are actually preparing to march into battle, others as if they are defending themselves or their loved ones. Some hold it as if they’re playing a musical instrument, while others seem to be leaning on it for strength and support. Some hold it out in front of themselves in a gesture of giving, and some hold it close to their hearts. No matter how everyone is posed, or how they hold the sword, the photos somehow tell their stories in the kind of language that speaks without words.

I had a chance to read the stories of the other women in the book before it was published, and was stunned into silence by their lives. Not only all that they had accomplished, but all that they had overcome. Some had been victims of abuse, and several had either dropped out or been kicked out of school. One had a wake-up call in her life when, just a few months apart, two close friends were struck with debilitating illness and injury that left one a paraplegic and the other unable to see or to walk. One woman in the book had tried to commit suicide, another had a husband who tried – and succeeded.

One woman, who lived in the Middle East for two years and whose passion is helping women who have no voice, was photographed wearing a burka. She is covered head to toe in the black garment, and the only part of her that can be seen is her hands, holding the sword. Another woman, who has a lingerie store and is not the same size as most lingerie models, had her photo taken wearing only lingerie and an expression on her face that says, “I can’t believe I’m doing this!” But she wanted to speak out to women who are critical of their bodies – which is most of us – and let them know it’s okay to be themselves.

As I was reading the stories, my immediate thought was, “I don’t belong in a book with these women! I haven’t achieved the degree of success they have, and I haven’t had to deal with or overcome the obstacles they have in order to get where they are.”

But then I had to laugh, because that is my story. When I began my quest to become a professional speaker, I started searching for – and was unable to find – whatever it was about me that was unique and special, and that other people would want or need to know. I had a busy and fulfilling life, but I didn’t have the academic or corporate experience and credentials I thought necessary to build a successful speaking business.

What I eventually discovered is that the life lessons I’ve learned, and the determination, compassion, and humor they’ve embedded in me, have given me the credentials and expertise I need. As well as the wisdom. Fearless wisdom. I didn’t recognize it in myself before, or the fact that one of my gifts is being able to recognize it in others.

I love that my portrait, which is also on the home page of my website, shows me holding the sword as though embracing its power – and my own – but also prepared to present it to someone else who may want it or need it. And since speaking is still a large part of what I do, I love that the photo shows me clutching the hilt of the sword in a way that almost makes it look like a microphone. It wasn’t planned that way, but somehow that’s how it came out.

I’m proud to be in the book, and to be among the women I now consider my “fearless sisters.” What I’ve finally realized – and I hope everyone will, if they don’t know it already – is that being fearless doesn’t mean you’re never afraid. It means you never let that stop you. And the wisdom I’ve acquired throughout my life, and that I believe is captured in my portrait, is that being fearless means following your heart, discovering your strength, and never giving up on your dreams.

© Betty Liedtke, 2010