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Stop Being Afraid of Raising Your Hand

By Paige Kassalen

Throughout grade school and university, I rarely raised my hand to answer a question unless I was absolutely certain that I would get the answer correct. There were many times when I was only 99.9% certain of an answer, but was too afraid of that 0.1% chance of being wrong, so I stayed quiet and saw someone else offer the same answer and get it correct.

This was frustrating, not because I wanted the glory of getting an answer correct, but because I was mad at myself for not being an active participant because I was afraid of being wrong.

If I had to provide one piece of advice to someone who is looking to progress in their career, it would be to stop being afraid of raising your hand.

Raising your hand in the classroom and advancing in your career might not seem related, but the fear of being wrong does not cease once you graduate from school. This idea of raising your hand is really a catchall for being willing to confidently volunteer and execute something that is outside of your comfort zone.

Why does raising your hand matter?

After university, you take on your first job, and the small voice inside your head causing doubts about your knowledge and abilities continues. You might think that you should wait and gain more experience before volunteering a solution, or that if your idea has not been brought up yet, then you’re probably missing something, and your idea is wrong.

You end up waiting for the moment when you feel confident, but the challenge is that this confidence isn’t guaranteed to come. You’ll always be taking on new tasks, joining new teams, and acquiring new responsibilities. Therefore, it’s important to shake the fear of being incorrect, because you don’t want to sit on the sidelines your whole career while you wait to feel complete confidence.

How can you get more comfortable raising your hand?

  1. Experience Some Type of Rejection – find something that is low-stakes and practice being incorrect or getting rejected. This can be something as easy as volunteering to answer a question during a class or trying to negotiate a deal on your phone plan. The more exposure you have to rejection, the more comfortable you will be when it happens in a higher-stakes setting.
  2. Actively Listen – if you are feeling a bit anxious about offering up an idea in a meeting, make sure to actively listen, and then show how your solution aligns with the discussion. Use terms like “similar to what [employee name] was saying, we could also try x, y and z to accomplish our goal.” By making the connection between your idea to another person’s comment, you hopefully get some immediate buy-in and support.
  3. Understand What You Want – I recently wrote an article titled “Weighing the Risks of Taking Risks,” and similar to that message, you don’t want to raise your hand just for the sake of putting yourself out there. When you understand what you want, you can focus on raising your hand for opportunities that align with your overarching goals. In these situations, the risks feel more justified because the fear of missing out on an opportunity far outweighs the fear of raising your hand.

What outcomes can you expect?

When you start raising your hand, you stop sitting on the sidelines, and over the years, you will see career growth. More than that, though, by actively participating in every aspect of your professional life, you help yourself and your company.

You will be exposed to new experiences and opportunities that will help you grow. These can lead to career moves you might not have thought to make, like moving into a new role or industry. Raising your hand will also give you more exposure to potential sponsors within the organization who can help you achieve your goals.

When you raise your hand, you help your company by contributing your own unique voice to each team you are a part of. Everyone knows that diverse teams are more successful, so no matter what type of diversity you bring to the team (gender, race, educational background, culture, geography, etc.), you need to raise your hand, let your voice be heard, and help your team achieve maximum success!


Paige Kassalen

Paige Kassalen has an electrical engineering degree from Virginia Tech and a Master of Information Systems Management from Carnegie Mellon. Kassalen began her career as the only American engineer working with Solar Impulse 2, the first solar-powered airplane to circumnavigate the globe. This role landed Kassalen a spot on the 2017 Forbes 30 Under 30 list along with feature articles in Glamour, Teen Vogue, and Fast Company. Since Solar Impulse, Kassalen worked in the manufacturing and finance industries to create implementation strategies for a range of emerging technology trends from autonomous vehicles to machine learning. She was the Chief Operating Officer at CrowdAI, a start-up named by Forbes as one of the most promising AI companies in 2021. CrowdAI was acquired by Saab, Inc. in 2023, and Kassalen now serves as the Chief of Staff for the strategy division.

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