I was talking with a friend who was making changes in her life. She ended a relationship that wasn’t working for her and committed to attending 30 support group meetings in 30 days. She was a dozen days in when we talked. I was impressed and inspired, and I told her she was brave. She laughed and replied, “I don’t feel brave!”
I sometimes think that bravery doesn’t exist. Bravery is a characteristic that is ascribed to others when they do something that we think we wouldn’t be able to do. It’s what we say about people who are able to face difficulty and pain without fear. The definition of brave is acting without fear.
That’s why we don’t feel brave when we are doing something big or new or different. Fear is right there with us.
The thing is, the person doing the brave thing is doing it with fear and lots of it – with heart racing and palms sweating and knees wobbling. It just looks like something else on the outside because fear is internal. We can’t see their fear. Yet we can imagine quite clearly how paralyzingly fearful we would be if we were considering such a step, so it looks like the other person has some quality that we don’t. The other person has the ability to do something bold, and we don’t. Compare and despair.
There is a problem with this comparison: we are comparing our inside with someone else’s outside. What’s the result? We come out short.
The reality is that the brave person is not so different. They reached a place in their life where they no longer wanted to be. As my friend explained, once she really saw what she’d been tolerating in her life, she couldn’t not see it. This is the point where staying the same is worse than the fear of doing something about it. It’s fear that stops us from trying something new. It stops us before we start by conjuring horrible outcomes that might happen instead of the rewards we might gain.
This is especially true of inner work, the kind of work you do with a coach or a therapist or a support group.
I remember the first time I went ziplining. I was standing on the platform, high off the ground, and I was scared. But I looked around and I saw the substantial zipline cable anchored in place, the safety harness I was wearing, the people who went before me smiling and laughing on the other side, and I realized I had plenty of evidence that this would not end badly. (It was a blast!)
When it comes to inner work, the evidence is not always so clear because it is internal and usually doesn’t come with a cheering section saying “It’s great! Come on!” So taking steps to look at the beliefs, baggage, and behaviors we’ve been holding on to can feel like jumping off a platform without a harness. (It’s so worth it!)
I’ve redefined what it means to be brave.
Bravery is feeling fear and acting anyway.
It doesn’t matter how big or small the action is. When there is action in the face of fear, there is bravery. Bravery can look big and heroic, or it can be as simple as:
I need help.
I love you.
Does bravery exist? Oh yes, in all of us, everyday. Look in the mirror. You are brave, my friend.