I've been thinking a lot about courage lately while I was at TechEd.
The DJ at the party I was at last night kept urging people to absorb more "liquid courage" so they could get up and sing some intensely bad heavy metal karaoke. :P While I applaud any timid person for overcoming their fears, I am skeptical about making the mojo happen simply for this purpose. But it was true that more nerds danced in the club when there was more alcohol in the nerds.
I'm really a shy person who has trained herself otherwise (I think I blogged about talking with Chris Sells on this topic - he claims to be an extroverted shy person himself). Standing at a booth handing out t-shirts and representing Gotdotnet when the customer had deeper questions than the other guys on the team could answer, is actually a decent stretch for me. Speaking at TechEd in a few weeks in Amsterdam is going to take all my freakin' will. I am sure it took some courage on the part of our customers to face off haf-a-dozen Microsoft-shirted people from the communities team, although it took all of us to withstand the freebie mobs that would descend when the piles of t-shirts got too high.
But all that is about public, social courage - the ability to muster up the bravado for certain timeframes long enough to get stuff done.
Then, there's private courage. It is this that I think Microsoft taps into with its decision not to have a formal blogging policy and the admonition to "blog smart." And what makes blogging here so interesting.
If we could say anything we wanted as Microsoft employees with no repercussions, we would never have to look at ourselves and decide every time " am I saying something worth losing my job for, and even if I do lose my job, do I feel it so important to the corporate blogging conversation that I will say it anyway?" If we didn't have the space to decide for ourselves what we post, with no moderation from the company, would we do as good a job expressing what we need to?
I've already blogged about how I thought Robert Scoble's stance on HB1515 proves the 'blog smart" system was working. What I've heard since them is people saying "Oh, he wasn't worried - he gets away with it because he is Scoble." And while there IS only one Scoble, I've seen him enough to know that he makes the same gut check that all of the bloggers who push the frontiers must - he asks himself re: losing his job or other punitive measures, or even having to apologize. We have all seen Scoble apologize. He does it quickly and means it but I'm sure it's not the most fun thing he does.
I think it is bloggers who tap into their private courage that are being congratulated by TechEd attendess in Josh's post. These are the people congratulating his wife Gretchen for expressing her frustration with recruiting at Microsoft. But there are subtler bits of internal courage here as well.
Sure you say - it doesn't take courage to put my little VB snippet out on the Web - my technical blog doesn't fall into that category of blogging derring-do. But - ever seen a group of angry technical people pounce on the one poor sod who got a technical detail wrong? You think it doesn't take courage to post your technical opinion and perhaps be thought dumb? Overcoming that internal reluctance to put yourself in the path of ridicule (or even light mockery) is part of the private courage.
In the last three months, the bravest thing I did was stick with Gotdotnet. Late at night. On weekends when it was me and the skeleton mscom ops crew. Not brave because I'd be mocked (although thanks to Rory and Scott Hanselman, we got that too :) ). And you could argue that the months before that, when there was no solid resourcing or organizational momentum behind the site, that it was brave to stick up for a politically insignificant project. But sitting there owning the fact that the servers were flighty and the team was new and my boss was new and the relationship with mscom ops had just begun and could be screwed up - it all could be screwed up - I didn't do a lot of sleeping in part because the prospect was terrifying.
It was convenient I didn't sleep, because there was a truckload of work I needed to do, but it's those silent-with-your-heartbeat times that make the actions you take more powerful and more resonant with where you live. I look back and I'm proud I didn't give up, run, or flail (although I did sing the blues :D ). I also give the highest props to my team who did some serious buttkicking. But I am sure they faced their own demons while facing down Gotdotnet's, and I can only tell you my story. My demon was fearing not being enough for a problem that loomed large, with customer happiness at stake.
So for some of us, it will be facing the customer when we are dying of shyness. For some of us, it will be taking on the projects we want so badly to pull off but are so afraid we will fail. For others, it will be speaking the truth about their experiences at Microsoft with as much compassion, honesty, and smarts as they can. Reckless testing the waters - well you get what you deserve if you are juvenile or not thoughtful. But if your reasons are principled, courageous, you will be a better person for it...and I think our blogging stance (NOT policy!) relies on this. It creates better blogs.
Working on private courage, it's the nature of the game that you end up winning more of yourself than you ever had before.
Blog smart and live it vivid!