by Kevin Coupe

I had the opportunity yesterday to facilitate a public conversation with Amy Robach, news anchor for “Good Morning, America,” and Shannon Huffman Polson, an adventurer and former Army helicopter pilot turned accomplished writer - two people who, I must confess, make me feel like a woeful underachiever.

The occasion was the Women’s Fresh Perspectives Leadership Breakfast hosted by the Produce Marketing Association’s Center for Growing Talent, a remarkable affair in which I was privileged to participate. The theme of the event was “Own It!,” and Robach and Polson were there to share their highly individual stories.

Robach’s likely was the most familiar to the audience. An accomplished news personality, several years ago she reluctantly agreed to have a mammogram on national television as part of breast cancer awareness campaign; she was later told that, in fact, she had breast cancer. Robach ended up having a double mastectomy and multiple rounds of chemo, all while raising children and holding down her job - which included covering the Sochi Olympics in between chemo treatments. (She wrote about her story in a touching memoir entitled “Better.”)

Polson’s story was no less compelling. She was 19 years old when she became the youngest person ever to climb Denali, the highest mountain peak in North America, and she served nine years in the Army (at one point telling a frightening story about having her helicopter targeted by enemy anti-aircraft guns).

What grabbed my attention yesterday was not just that we were having our conversation at a time when sexual harassment is front and center in the national conversation (and they both made clear that while both have been the targets of harassment, they have not been victims), but that both were honest about the fact that they’ve faced different kinds of fear in their lives, and come out on the other side.

That may have been the most important message to the audience - that character is built through multiple experiences, some exhilarating and some terrifying, that these add up to personal narratives that must be more than just owned. They must be celebrated.

And for me, the metaphor that will stay with me the longest came from Polson, who talked about taking off in a helicopter. You turn it into the wind, she said, because that’s how you meet resistance, “and resistance will help you to rise.”

That’s the message I brought home not just to my daughter, but to my sons.

It was an Eye-Opener.