Laura Cox Kaplan
Never let fear stop you from doing what you know you can do. You’ll always be afraid, but you can’t let it stand in your way.
I grew up in Rising Star, a town of 800 people in Central Texas. My parents taught me the world was a very large place, even though we lived in a very small place. They encouraged me to dream big and to embrace opportunity. Despite their support, I still struggled with the insecurities that can come from growing up in a small town.
I fell in love with Washington, DC while spending a college summer interning for my local Congressman. After graduation, I returned to Capitol Hill and quickly rose from my position as a receptionist to become one of the youngest press secretaries in the U.S. Senate.
After a brief stint in the private sector, I landed my dream job at the Department of the Treasury. This position gave me invaluable experience working on important policy issues. It also exposed me to an amazingly talented team and a number of wonderful mentors.
As I was hitting my stride at Treasury, I was asked to take a new leadership position at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). While I had great respect for the Chairman, heading to the SEC felt like a risky move. Public opinion of the Commission was at an all time low, along with staff morale. I worried that being in a high profile role at a troubled agency would make me a target. I was also reluctant to leave a job I loved for something difficult and unknown. The upside was the opportunity to lead a larger team and be part of implementing important corporate governance and accounting reforms. Making this move would definitely accelerate my career, but what if I failed?
As I grappled with the decision, I thought back to my high school. In my class of 13 students, I graduated Valedictorian and was accepted at the University of Texas at Austin. A well-meaning family friend convinced me that a small town girl like me would be unprepared—academically and emotionally— for the challenges of a university with 50,000 students. I followed her advice, went to a smaller school, and quickly realized I had made a huge mistake. Luckily, I was able to transfer to UT and graduated from the school where I knew I was meant to be all along.
Mulling the choice between the safe haven of Treasury and the uncharted waters at the SEC, I knew I could not make that same mistake again. I leaned in, and it was the best move I could have made. It was as difficult as I had feared, but also extremely rewarding. In fact, that experience lead directly to my current role leading government, regulatory affairs and public policy for PwC.
The most important lesson I hope to teach my daughter (and my son) is not to let fear stop you from doing what you know you can do. You’ll always be afraid, but you can’t let it stand in your way.