5 Ways To Be A Badass

My overarching goal for 2021: Roll into 50 like a badass. I turn 50 on September 2nd. 

The start of a new year is often a time of introspection. I appreciate this intentional pause between what has been and what will be. I relish the opportunity to delineate a fresh start and to create intentions that guide me forward. Some years I’ve made big life-changing resolutions, while others I’ve aimed for small tweaks of my routine or habits. 

Nearly ten years ago, I created a list called “40 for 40,” a set of forty aspirations for the decade ahead. I figured I had ten years to get it all done, no problem. Here’s a sampling from that list:

  • Take time to think about what I am grateful for each day
  • Send more random notes (and thank you notes) to people
  • Drink more water.
  • Learn to mix yummy cocktails.
  • Explore the beautiful outdoors of the SF Bay Area.
  • Keep Goodreads up to date.
  • Lean in to professional situations that stretch me and those in which I don’t have all the answers.
  • Control my schedule and priorities.

I have carried “40 for 40” with me in my planner for more than nine years, but honestly at some point, I stopped seeing it. So, on January 1, I pulled it out and took stock. My first thought: “Geez, these are pretty minor goals to set for the entirety of one’s 40s.” However with a little reflection, I realized that they are neither to-dos that can be crossed off a list, nor are they the sum of my ambitions or aspirations. Instead, they are intentions about who I want to be and statements of what I value. Reading through them, I see the following: I value gratitude, learning, taking care of myself, kindness, connection with others and nature, intentionality. 

This year instead of focusing on completing my “40 for 40,” I am focusing entirely on rolling into 50 like a badass. 

When I was younger I aspired to be wise. In my mind, wisdom was personified by Dorothy Mansfield, my mentor and colleague at Homestead High School where I began my teaching career. Dorothy had been teaching at Homestead for many years, and she was well-loved and revered by all. She was knowledgeable, kind, visionary, inclusive, and she was also a fierce warrior when needed. She was a constant learner. And, maybe what I loved most of all, no matter how inexperienced or raw I was as a beginning teacher, Dorothy always made me feel valued and appreciated. 

I remember musing, “I want to be wise like Dorothy one day.” I thought that wisdom was something I could achieve and mark as completed.  Or sometimes, wisdom seemed more like a destination, a place I would arrive and be recognized as worthy. In retrospect, I realize that I measured my wisdom by how others saw me. It wasn’t about how much I knew or my insights; it was about others’ estimation of me. 

Now I aspire to badassery. Badassery is the opposite of wanting to be seen as wise. It’s about knowing your own brand of wisdom and loving it regardless of how others see you.  

Badassery – 1 (noun) the practice of knowing, accepting and celebrating one’s own accomplishments and gifts. 2 (noun) The practice of living with swagger.

Swagger – (noun or verb) a state of being that involves being oneself; waking up “like this” and not giving a crap what anyone else thinks about you. 

Shonda Rhimes, The Year of Yes

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized that wisdom is about recognizing how much I still have to learn as much as it’s about how much I know. Sometimes the weight of all that remains to be learned can feel overwhelming. But, most of the time, it’s what makes each day exciting.

Bottom line: Accepting and celebrating one’s own accomplishments and gifts is not the same thing as knowing everything. It’s about owning what you know and being confident that your unique set of skills, voice, and ability to grow are exactly what you need.

5 Ways To Be A Badass

  1. Make a list of qualities you love in yourself. This is the most important part, and it’s not something many of us, especially women, are accustomed to doing. That said, if you dig deep and really listen to yourself, you know what makes you awesome. 
  1. Tame your inner critic. Our inner voice often provides the sharpest and least compassionate criticism in our lives. We know better than to let anyone else talk to us like that, and yet, our inner critic reigns. It’s time to shut her down. 
  1. Know your boundaries. Living with swagger means setting boundaries that protect you from unfounded criticism, attempts to drag you down, or forces that negatively impact your self image. Boundaries are your guidelines for how you want and expect to be treated.
  1. Find your voice. Your ideas and experiences matter, and by sharing them you give a gift to others. Each of us has a unique and powerful form of self-expression. Celebrate you!
  1. Believe you can grow. Being a badass doesn’t require being an expert, being the best, or being perfect. It requires being you, being willing to try, and having confidence that you can overcome challenges and solve problems. 


  1. This is by far my favorite post. I love it and will share it widely. The advice is awesome. Love badass swagger! Thank you Sharon for your wisdom, strength, leadership and courage.

    • Thank you, Lindsay! Thank you for your support all along the way, for your support of my writing, and for sharing this widely. Truly means so much to me.

  2. It feels like this post found me at the perfect time. I’ve been noticing that the leaders I appreciate and look up to most are those that lead with appreciation and gratitude, for the smallest tasks or the newest members on the team. When you’re treated like an MVP, you’re encouraged to grow into that potential version of yourself. I wonder if wisdom and gratitude are linked, or if showing gratitude is the result of a certain kind of wisdom?

    Love your commitment to being an exemplary badass for us all, Ms. Olken! And as a fellow Goodreads enthusiast, I’d stop by your libations library any time 😉


    • Jocelyn – thank you so much for reading and responding to my writing! I totally agree with your perspective and I love your question about wisdom and gratitude. You make me so proud xoxo

  3. Thanks for the inspiration and even more importantly, the insight. It comes at the perfect time, as next week my friend Dawn and I will connect to talk about 2021 goals. Yesterday I met with a career coach who took me through a visualization journey to see my “older, wiser self”. It was very powerful. I love Shonda Rhimes, as well as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz 🙂

    • So great, Helen! I love the exercise of visualizing our older, wiser selves – our inner mentors! Glad to hear you are invoking her and thinking about your goals ahead. xoxo

  4. I love this so very much. Your definitions and the word “swagger” and all of this coming from YOU to boot! Well done, my friend. I think I might print these out and keep them visible in my office. And HELL YES to Badass 50! 💕

Leave a Reply