Fierceness is a necessary component for working with the self.

When we sat down over Skype with Jerry Colonna, executive coach and Chair of the Board at Naropa University, he explained that fierceness is not about aggression. Or to be more specific, it is about aggression, but it is about encountering aggression.

Jerry talked about his enjoyment of playing with words. “It’s why I play with curses as well. I want to take back language. One of the things that I find so powerful about the human rights movement is, for example, taking back the word ‘queer’. Take it back. Own it.”

Taking back the word “fierce,” means coming to a better understanding of what the word actually represents. “It’s not ferociousness. It is encountering fear. Oftentimes it’s about encountering our own fear and understanding that the roots of our aggression are really our own fears.”

Fiercness then is the confrontation, rather than avoidance of our fears. “I think this is one of the biggest challenges of leadership.” Too often we avoid difficult conversations, cultivating the trust-destroying element of avoidance. Jerry says it’s not enough that, “I as a coach stand up in front of an audience and wag my finger, saying, ‘Don’t avoid difficult conversations.’ It’s not enough. Because that’s just going to make people feel bad again. Being fierce, to me, means confronting the reality of our own fear.”

This display can make fierceness seem like it is directed towards another person. “Often what we tell ourselves is, for instance, ‘I’m afraid to tell Sarah that I don’t like something that she has done or something about her because I don’t want to hurt her feelings.’ And that may be a true and genuine feeling, but behind that is another fear, which is actually ego-based: I don’t want Sarah to not like me. And I don’t want to deal with Sarah’s pain. Because I don’t want to deal with Sarah’s pain, what’s really going on is I don’t want to deal with my own pain.”

Aggression is reacting out of fear towards another person. Being fierce means a confrontation with our self, understanding the fears that arise within ourselves, and not avoiding them, or displacing them on another person.

“So the person that we really need to be fierce with is not the other, which is aggression,” Jerry says, “it’s with ourselves.” As Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche taught, it’s about being without self-deception, it’s about cutting through our own tendency to lie to ourselves. “It’s about owning and admitting that I do actually understand this intuitively. And I don’t know about you, but I struggle with it pretty much every moment of my day. Because even as I’m saying this to you, it’s like, ‘Well, Jerry, remember that time that you weren’t fierce?’ Oh! Got it!”

Fierceness then is not an opportunity for aggression, it is rather a chance for gentleness. “That’s right. And compassion. Compassion for each and every one of us, myself included.”

jerry_colonnaJerry Colonna is a certified professional coach and currently the Chair of the Board for Naropa University. Previously, he was a venture capitalist and co-launched Flatiron, which became one of the most successful early-stage investment programs.

Find out more information about Jerry on his website.

Interview conducted by Cameron Wenaus from Retreat Guru and Sarah Lipton from the Shambhala Times

transcribed by Emma Sartwell and edited by Christopher Schuman