Overcoming Fears Through Micro-moments of Bravery

Feb 23, 2023

Joze Piranian is one of the keynote speakers for The Forum’s 35th Annual Conference and his story will inspire you to conquer your own fears. Piraninan is an impactful advocate for diversity and inclusion because he felt the sting of exclusion early on in his life. His stutter caused a fear of public speaking that dominated his life and “I was destined to a lifetime of quiet despair and regression unless I made a drastic change.” 

During his second year in business school at McGill University in Quebec, Piranian met with his professors and asked for exemptions from in-class participation and presentations. “One cannot deny that they did the right thing when someone with a speaking disability asks for accommodations,” Piranian said. However, looking back, he sees that he really needed the professors’ encouragement to participate rather than permission to remain silent. 

Piranian learned  a breathing technique in therapy that helped control his stutter. However,  “the fear of the judgment was so dominant and strong that no practical steps would be relevant or useful, because I was drowning in anxiety.”  Joining the public speaking club Toastmasters  provided  a pivotal challenge that helped him gradually build resilience in the face of fear. He jokes that his biggest “Aha!” moment was recognizing that there are no “Aha!” moments.

After Toastmasters, Joze wanted to join the debate club, but the rapid-fire dialogue was intimidating. Before quitting, Piranian told the organizer he couldn’t participate because of his stutter. He gets teary-eyed when he shares the organizer’s unexpected response: “He looked at me and said, I think you should do it!” Piranian explains, I remember this moment as a type of accommodation and allyship when we can directly empower others to do something they did not consider as being in their realm of possibilities.”

His hard work paid off in 2017 when he was named Inspirational Speaker of the Year at Canada’s Speaker Slam. To reach that level, first he did the one thing most of us find deeply uncomfortable: initiating conversations with strangers at shopping malls and on the street. This video trailer for his upcoming documentary illustrates the extreme challenge of his condition in those random interactions. 

Joze’s next step was to book speaking engagements and stand-up comedy routines. The latter allowed him to address his uniqueness through humor, making public speaking more comfortable as he immediately addressed the obvious. “I was getting power over my narrative by openly speaking about the one thing that had made me deeply and painfully self-conscious my entire life.”

Joze Piranian emerged with a powerful belief during this period that “fear and action can co-exist, and if we know that, we no longer need to wait for the fear to disappear before we start taking action.” He says his journey has not been a singular transaction with the universe but “repeatedly looking the dragon in the eye, taking a deep breath and walking through that fire again and again and again.” 

 If you are waiting for a singular moment when things click into place, and you finally have clarity over what to do about the fears that hold you back, Joze Piranian is here to tell you, “your breakthrough is not coming!” His transformation came from what he calls “millions of micro-moments of bravery,” when he took the most uncomfortable actions, step by step. “Of course, this applies both to the fears that we conquer in our own lives and the discussions around diversity and inclusion that might be uncomfortable.” According to Piranian,  the work to go beyond compliance and towards genuine inclusivity does not revolve around being extremely cautious out of the fear of doing or saying something wrong whenever you’re around someone different.

Another way of practicing inclusion is to be aware of your environment and ready to act. For example, he recently facilitated a group activity and saw someone sitting separately. For Joze Piranian, reaching out and bringing that individual into the conversation was a profound experience because he realized that he had come full circle. “I get emotional thinking about it because I was that guy not long ago,” he adds, “I think we can sometimes underestimate the power a simple gesture can have on someone.”


More about Joze Piranian: Bio

More about our guest journalist: Khadijo (Jojo) Abdi is a writer, poet, and educator living in Minneapolis, MN. Her poetry and essays are published in Lyricality, Minnesota Women’s Press, and in the anthology by Freedom Voices, Muslim American Writers At Home: Stories, Essays, and Poems of Diversity and Belonging.

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Photos by Sarah Morreim Photography
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