For me, “courage” has always been such a vague, far-away, and probably, honestly, unappealing word.
Skydive. Take out the big loan and open the restaurant. Sign up for the high ropes course. Join the military. Tell him you love him even if he might not say it back. Or tell him to fuck off even though you might not know your next move.
Risk, followed by the potential for reward. The rewards of exhilaration, success, pride, purpose, love, power.
Although, recently I’ve been ruminating on my own personal definition of courage. Feeling that I’m not a courageous person in the way that I’ve up-until-now defined it, but questioning how I could invite it into my life in way that is more fitting, more me.
I’m not an extreme person, admittedly. And adrenaline? It can stay hidden wherever it lives in my body, thankyouverymuch.
The biggest risks I ever took were when I wore a baby blue princess ball gown to prom, ate one of those peppers in a jar at Steak n Shake, and that one time when I moved across the country to California on a whim.
I like to stay home on Friday nights, put on some jazz and make a Blue Apron meal. Maybe open a nice bottle from the wine club and catch up on Shameless. As long as I’m in bed by 10 with my moisturizer on nice and thick, all good.
I find a thrill when I write essays I don’t plan to submit, glue magazine cutouts to poster board, and make life lists. When I find flowers at the market, read library books and shop at Ann Taylor Loft. I like to do yoga, ride my bike aimlessly and get in a sunrise hike for exercise. Send birthday cards, have a deep one-on-one conversation and find the newest (quiet) restaurant in my town.
I don’t find energy in risk. I don’t seek a rush.
I find energy in connection. Calm. Learning. Nurturing myself and others.
Not in courageous acts…
But. In my challenge to find ways to be courageous this month, I realized that I had to reframe it or else I would spiral into the hole of shame that tells me I’m lame, lazy, boring and never going to have excitement in my life. That without taking big risks, I’m not a brave person. That unless I face fear head on, like a badass, with conviction, that I’m not a bold, courageous person.
I had to understand, for myself, how facing fear looked. And why I would do it, anyway. What’s my motivation? It’s that it’s important to me to lead a value-driven life and what I value, at my core, is connection, individuality, vitality, order, expression. Ultimately, freedom.
So, what if courage is about chasing our values, our depth and our energy and thereby, chasing freedom.
Chasing passion, whether swimming with sharks or making a cake gives you life. Chasing what you crave, all across the spectrum from booking the weekend trip at the nearby BnB to selling every last wordly possession and moving to Japan.
What if the most courageous act we can perform is to be free.
However that might look for each of us, individually.
Courage for you is different for me. You get your energy from a different source than I get my energy. Freedom looks wildly varied for each and every one of us.
Where am I at in my freedom quest?
I am certain that I need to both push myself towards a more courageous life but also trust that I know myself; give myself the grace that it didn’t have to involve jumping from a high place and screaming at the top of my lungs in terror.
I chose five courageous acts. I thought long and hard about what would honor my values and my freedom, which is what I most deeply desired when I thought about my wish that I could be a courageous person.
Initiate the heartfelt, difficult conversations that weigh on my peace of mind. Connection. Leave my makeup bag at home and go to Summer Camp bare-faced. Individuality. Register for the sprint triathlon. Vitality. Call the bank and schedule the appointment to handle big girl financial type things. Order. Sing my heart out on stage in front of a crowd. Expression.
Nothing insane. Nothing really that inspiring. Nothing that will set the world on fire or get me the most hearts on instagram.
Yet, I’m feeling pride in my ability to identify my individual values, energies, cravings, path. And letting myself know that that is me living in courage. That is me living as my most free self.
And you can do that, too. You can decide that you want to quit your shithole job and work as a nanny. Courage. Freedom.
You can decide that you love the benefits and stay in the cublicle. Courage. Freedom.
That you really, really just want to protect your space and stay in the studio or that you want to marry him and move to the country. Courage. Freedom.
As long as we’re listening. As long as we feel fear and act anyway. As long as we keep following the sometimes dim light to where our energy lives. Courage. Freedom.
The more we walk this journey, the brighter the light becomes, the stronger the muscles will be.
Listen, I’m not going to jump out of a plane or take a job as a journalist in a war zone. But, I might admit to myself and to my partner that I’m ready for next-level commitment. I might wing it and submit the essay to the ultra-high-readership online publication, and I might have faith in myself that I can be courageous and free in both big and small ways. In the way that is uniquely me. Courage. Freedom.
But you? Skydive. Take out the big loan and open the restaurant. Sign up for the high ropes course. Join the military. Tell him you love him even if he might not say it back. Or tell him to fuck off even though you might not know your next move.
Or not. Just be free.
Dee is the Community and Operations Manager for this joyful corner of the internet and loves bringing you monthly glimpses into her most current musings. You can reach her via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
And with photo credit to the supremely talented Megan Lane of Megan Lane Photography.