Fearless First Steps

A Movement to Change the World Starts at Commencement

Mary Lynn Manns leads the graduates in Zumba.During my December 2013 commencement speech, I encouraged the newest class of UNC Asheville graduates to change the world by being fearless, which I described as being willing to take the first step. We did this together, with a quick lesson in Zumba dancing, and in doing so, changed the world of commencement speeches, in which one usually sits and listens. 

To some of my friends, this fearless leadership of a Zumba dance might come as a surprise, but not to those who laughed with me as I worked to become a licensed Zumba instructor. Many times they danced too, finding the fun in our shared endeavor and exercise. Of course, with any challenge, including my personal quest to learn Zumba, we must be willing to fail. And, indeed, I did, every day as I watched the good dancers in the class moving one way while I, at least three beats behind, headed the other. Still, I took the next step, fearlessly continuing to have fun with my friends.

So what happened? Without a plan, with just one step at a time, I reached my goal. I earned my license and now lead a Zumba class for faculty and staff and another for the Osher Lifelong Learning Center. In my “Zumba for People with
Two Left Feet” class, we take one fearless step at a time. 

This may seem like a trivial example, but it allowed me to ponder some lessons worth sharing.

  • Setting a goal is usually necessary, but sometimes it can paralyze us. Perhaps there are times when we can put our goal in the back of our mind and just take a step.
  • Creating a plan is often helpful. But it can get in the way—when things don’t work as planned, we get discouraged and may even quit. Perhaps there are times when we shouldn’t spend as much time planning as just taking a step.
  • Learning from others is important, but perhaps there are times when it’s better to learn from yourself by observing what happens when you just take a step.
  • Success is important but sometimes failure is more important—followed by sincere reflection, it gives us a robust opportunity to learn. Perhaps we should embrace our failures along the way of just taking one step at a time.

So, do you have something you would love to do but your reasons for not doing so include a lack of talent or time? How about using the “f” words that I proposed during the commencement speech? What would happen if you stop being overwhelmed by a lofty goal or a rigorous plan and just fearlessly take a step and then another and another? What would happen if you found friends to help, to laugh with you when you trip and be a shoulder to cry on when you’re down? What would happen if you welcome each failure as a learning opportunity? And what would happen if you allowed yourself to have a little more fun?

What would happen if you changed “I must follow this plan” to “I must take a step”? With each step, whether you succeed or whether you fail and learn from it, either way, this moves you forward.

Share your fearless first step story by emailing magazine@unca.edu.

Mary Lynn Manns, professor in the Department of Management and Accountancy, is the 2013 recipient of the UNC Asheville Alumni Distinguished Faculty award. Her co-authored book Fearless Change: Patterns for Introducing New Ideas was featured on the “Books that Changed My Career” list on Amazon.com. Her second co-authored book, More Fearless Change, is scheduled to be released in 2014.