Brave. Without sounding arrogant, it?s a word people often use to describe me. Often, I have people telling me things like ? ?Oh, wow, you?re so brave, I couldn?t? move to a new country, start a new job, follow my heart without logic, post my writing?? Or insert anything else here.
When I look at my life, it is definitely the road-less-travelled that I have opted for. But I have a confession to make ? every time I do something new, I feel scared shitless. I mean seriously scared. It may even surprise you to know that every, single, time, I post a personal blog, I am nervous. And, the more intimate, real and raw the blog, the more vulnerable and exposed I feel ? the greater the fear.
The greater the vulnerability, the greater the exposure.
Every time I post something, it is putting a piece of myself out there, a part of myself which is open to criticism, rejection and even exposes my own biases and blind-spots. This is really hard to come to terms with. I know it?s necessary because it?s what I want to be doing with my life, and I know that it is the only way to learn and grow; but still? goddamn, it can be a bitch.
The Oxford dictionary defines ?brave? as:
?Ready to face and endure danger or pain, showing courage.?
Bravery and courage are intertwined, maybe two sides of the same coin ? and on the other side, lies fear. So, this means to know bravery, we need to know fear.
Picture yourself in bed, a strange shadow and noise is coming from the corner of the room. What is worse, lying in bed feeling scared all through the night or jumping out of bed to turn on the light and see what it is? It?s the latter right? Well, this act first requires that we show some courage to get out of bed to face whatever it is. It?s the same with our fears. We can either be ruled by them, trying to keep ourselves safe by burying our heads beneath the blanket or, we can be brave ? take a courageous leap and face them, even at the risk of pain and danger (failure, criticism, rejection).
Fear is ancient; back in the day it used to protect us, the physiological changes that occurred in the body (increased heart rate, blood flow to our vital organs) were preparing us for fight or flight ? which could inevitably save our lives from threats. These days, there are very few genuinely life-threatening events, but our minds haven?t evolved to differentiate, fears can still absolutely feel life-threatening. Fear of failure, fear of criticism, fear of rejection? can feel like our worlds will end (and to a point, they do ? this is the breaking down of the ego, but that?s a story for another day). Rationally, we know we won?t die, and our world probably won?t end, but it?s hard to get to ration when we are in a primal state of fear.
You should also know that our minds fear everything that isn?t known; our mind?s (ego) job is to keep us safe and protected, in the known. Which, in a nutshell, means that anything new ? including the future is unknown and will produce a certain amount of fear. Just think about that for a minute.
This is why, to be brave, means first acknowledging our fears; dissecting them, shining a light on them to see that (more often than not) they are not as scary as we imagined. Usually, when we shine a light on our fears, we discover them to have no more substance than a curtain blowing against a chair in the breeze.
So, for me, my process in trying to be brave always comes down to acknowledging my fears. Then comes the necessary first courageous step, and no matter how many times you do it, it is still scary as hell.
Posting this video yesterday had me in a wild panic.
It?s something I have been wanting to do for months, but fear held me back. I have been writing for years now, and as I said above, I still get nervous when I post personal pieces, but I can calm myself a little by saying ? not everyone will read what you write? Whereas a video has a higher chance of being seen, and it means ? ?I? am seen. As well as my words being judged, I can also be judged for how I look, what I sound like? no longer just the anonymous person behind the keyboard and blogs, there I am, for the world to see? no more playing small, I need to have a lot more conviction of who I am and the message I want to share?
*** CUE ANXIETY ***
I also shared my idea for the book ? what if it changes, what if it evolves, what if I struggle writing it, what if it?s a failure, what if I?m a flake?? I have just completely exposed myself. I am my ancestors, standing in the middle of a barren land, with no option of shelter or protection and a tiger approaching?
*** CUE HEARTRATE, ANXIETY, PANIC, DEATH***
What if people don?t like me because of what I have to share? What if everyone discovers I am a fraud and full of shit? I am my ancestor, expelled from the community, no tribe to call my own, no sense of belonging?
*** CUE CRIPPLING FEAR***
These are the sort of fears that run through our minds, and those are some of the primal fears which lie at their roots. Fear of rejection and failure is what is at the core of many fears. So, the greater the risk or exposure, the greater the fears.
So, bravery does NOT mean having no fear, it means feeling the fear and having the courage to do it anyway.
None of this comes easy to me. I believe bravery and courage, just like authenticity is a practice. Like a muscle, the more you flex it, the stronger it gets ? stop using it, and it weakens.
The video scared the shit out of me, but I posted it. I posted it because I know it is what I need to do, my inner voice has been saying it for a long time. I want to reach a wider audience; I want to engage more people in the conversation and the best medium to do this is video. I allowed my fears to hold the reigns for a while: I?m not good enough, what if I fail, what if people reject me, am I too much??
But finally, I acknowledged them one-by-one: ?All you can do is try. You might fail ? so what? If people reject you for something that feels like your truth, then they are not your people. Too much what?? These and so many more.
Then, I recorded the video in one take ? nervous, no make-up, feeling a bit ridiculous and self-conscious, but very genuinely myself, and then? I posted it, pushed it aside and did some serious deep breathing. Equal parts elated and scared beyond belief.
And you know what happened? Not only did I not die but I have been inundated with love and support. Yesterday, fear didn?t win, love did. It?s early days, and there will be greater challenges and fears ahead, but for now, I am happy. Maybe I will lose people from my circle, maybe I will fail ? if so, this is ok (well, accepting that this is ok will always be an ongoing process). But, what if I don?t fail??
It may sound morbid or ironic, but another ally I have in this journey of life, is death. Every other day, I imagine myself dying and ask myself two questions:
Will these fears or the opinions of critics? matter? The answer is always no.
Will I be happy with what I have done? If the answer is closer to no than yes, then I know I have some work to do.
Bravery has many shapes and sizes. Yesterday, for me, it was posting this video. At other stages of my life it has been ? quitting a job, ending a relationship, following my heart without knowing where it led, facing demons like alcohol and abuse, showing myself self-love, forgiving myself, forgiving others, having a difficult conversation, asking for bread in Croatian at the local bakery?
Sometimes when we face our fears, it is almost a matter of survival? when I finally faced some of my demons around alcohol and negative patterns of behaviour, it really was a matter of survival because these things were slowly killing me ? alcohol led me to some very dark and dangerous places, and sometimes, I am genuinely surprised that I am alive.
We don?t often see our own acts as brave either. I view others? actions far braver than my own ? like all the single mothers (or fathers) out there, who stepped out of difficult or abusive relationship to give themselves and their kids a better life. Those who have admitted to and overcome addiction. People who start a new business. Mothers who have lost a child and try again ? or don?t. People who have had their hearts broken and decide to try again, to give love another chance. People who use their voice, time and effort to fight for others (people, animals, the environment). My brother just told me that he is pursuing legal action against a large company and he plans on representing himself ? this, to me is brave.
And the funny thing about these brave acts is that they never feel brave while we are doing them; instead, they feel scary, painful, necessary, overwhelming? anything but brave.
Bravery can mean so many things; big and small. Sometimes bravery means just putting one foot in front of the other on a day we?d rather curl up in bed; other times it means accepting that we need to stay in bed and show some self-love. Sometimes bravery means fighting for others, other times it means asking for help. Sometimes bravery means risking it all in the pursuit of what sets our hearts on fire; other times it means learning to be content in what we have and where we are. Any time we create anything and put it out into the world, we are showing immense bravery. Every time we do anything that involves risk, uncertainty and exposure (Bren Brown?s definition of vulnerability), we are being brave.
I can almost guarantee that anything that has any amount of fear attached to it, is what you need to do and where you need to be. It?s by no means easy, but I find the alternative of living in mediocrity or not living my truth, far scarier.
And, ultimately, at the heart of every brave decision, is love. Loving ourselves enough to do what is right; regardless of outcome, opinion, risk or failure.
So, bravery isn?t a trait we possess or don?t. Bravery is something we do. Which means that it is available for everyone. I can?t guarantee that it will be painless; in fact, there will be a lot of growing pains and discomfort as you continually expand outside of your comfort zone. But with a little practice and self-love, it will be marginally easier each time.
Then why opt for bravery? Why move outside our comfort zones when the easiest option seems to be to stay in bed with the blankets pulled over our heads? Well, in my experience, every time we act with bravery and move through fear (and the growing pains), we grow, we learn, we get one step closer towards our truth and living the kind of life we dream?
In short ? it is oh, so worth it.
What are the fears that have been holding you back? Are they worth not living the life you imagine?
Thank you for reading and for all those who have already shown their support, I will never be able to express how much it means. Here?s to writing brave new chapters.
I would love to hear your stories of bravery or the struggles you have with making those courageous steps. Comment here or check out my page for more stories like this.
If you really want to watch something inspiring around the topic of courage, please watch Bren Brown?s ?A Call to Courage? on Netflix.