• Ariana Friedlander

3 Steps for unleashing purposeful defiance

One of the characteristics of the Misfit Entrepreneur is purposeful defiance. Defiance is defined as open resistance or bold disobedience. We've all likely encountered (and perhaps have been) that person that is oppositional just for the sake of it. Those are the times when we receive (or give) a resounding "NO" before an idea has even been fully articulated. Such interactions can be incredibly frustrating.


Purposeful defiance is different, as there's a deeper drive than just the need to stand in opposition to the expectations of others. That drive relates to a connection and understanding of one's truth. Purposeful defiance is the outward expression of one's inner truth when that truth flies in contrast to the expectations of others. What's more, that truth is grounded in values, which offer guidance for how it gets expressed. In other words, hurting others and calling it an expression of your inner truth is not purposeful defiance (there are countless examples of crimes against humanity committed in such a manner that we will not explore here but this distinction must be acknowledged).


My mother modeled purposeful defiance for me growing up, which she learned from my Grandmother (Rose Puzzutelli, perhaps you've heard of her). My mother was determined to follow her passion in life from a very young age. She signed herself up for piano classes in elementary school and was relentless in her pursuit to learn music.

In high school, she was determined to go to college to study music. My Grandfather was quite traditional and believed that only men needed college degrees. Therefore my mother (and her three sisters) did not receive any financial support from their parents to attend college as it was reserved for their brother. Not only that, but as you can imagine, my mother received a lot of push back for pursuing a degree in music instead of studying something more "practical.

Not surprisingly, my mother has had a thriving career as a musician and piano teacher. Because of her purposeful defiance, my mother's professional pursuits have been both fulfilling and meaningful, she followed her heart with determination and grace regardless of the expectations of others.

Purposeful defiance requires courage. The courage to be true to yourself, which you may express by following these three steps: 1) Listen, 2) Speak up and 3) Stay the course.

Step 1: Listen


It starts with the courage to quiet the noise and listen within. This is one of the first things I typically work on with clients, it's an act of sifting through one's mental chatter, releasing thoughts that feed fear and do not serve us, and listening for insight from one's inner genius. Such an act of stillness, and reflection in and of itself defies the expectations most of us have internalized, which is to produce, consume, perform, perfect, and do.

I have worked with a number of clients, who were able to make profound shifts by quieting the noise and listening within. One such client, we'll call her Marie, was persistently self-sabotaging her efforts to advance her career. She was quite distraught and worried about her ability to make a living - she felt that earning an income required her to be someone she was not.

After filtering out the noise and listening within, she realized that the opportunities she was pursuing were what she thought she should do and not in alignment what what she deeply, truly wanted. Once Marie shifted her tactics so her efforts aligned with what she deeply desired, opportunities sprang up that genuinely excited her. Suddenly the challenge became, choosing among them.

Step 2: Speak up


After listening, comes the courage to speak up. Finding and using your voice, especially when expressing a perspective that's not popular, does not come naturally to most people. It takes effort.

As I shared in a previous blog, it can help to prepare for difficult conversations by writing in your journal. One reason is that journaling helps you to get clear about what want to convey to others. With such clarity, you can not only practice what you want to say, but also connect your voice with your deeper conviction. When you speak up with confidence people listen differently.

One business owner, I interviewed recently saw the warning signs of the COVID pandemic before anyone else in her industry. And because her team members have a heightened risk of exposure by the very nature of their jobs, she took proactive steps to be prepared by contacting the health department for assistance.

"I reached out to the state...And he said 'this is nothing more than the flu.' That's what he said. And I said, 'No, it's not.' And he said, 'Yes, it is.' And we got back and forth."

Even though the state official thought she was "a lunatic...an alarmist." And refused to offer her help in procuring supplies, she stuck with her truth and got prepared. This leads us to the third step.

Step 3: Stay the course


Unleashing purposeful defiance requires the courage to stay the course.

There will always be nay-sayers. Certain people are poised to judge you and your efforts because challenging the status quo is threatening to them. If you listen to everyone else and deny your inner truth, you'll end up making sacrifices that cause you more harm than good.

As one of my clients (we'll call her Natalie) was in the early stages of developing a new innovation to their business unit, the very department she thought would endorse her efforts began throwing up roadblocks. Instead of being the advocates she expected, they questioned and belittled her idea in front of the entire executive team on multiple occasions.


Sure, Natalie was discouraged and disheartened. But that didn't stop her from staying the course. Instead, she enlisted the support of a few leaders with high social currency to champion the project with her. Together, they brought the innovation to market with a successful launch.

As COVID struck, and their business operations were disrupted, this innovation proved to be an incredibly valuable asset. Suddenly all of those nay-sayers wanted a piece of the action.

While things didn't go as Natalie had imagined they would (and let's be real, they rarely do for any of us). She didn't let that stop her. Instead, she had the courage to course-correct, keeping the project going. Her idea might not have been popular early on, but it sure proved to be indispensable.


As we emerge from the disruptions that COIVD has caused to our work and lives, there's a great need for more leaders to unleash purposeful defiance. The pandemic and other natural disasters have brought to light inequities and instabilities that are in our best interest to address.


If you feel called to be a source of positive change in the world, you have a responsibility to listen, speak up and stay the course.

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