Thoughts on Courage

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”
Mark Twain

At least once a week, I am told that I am brave.  And my reaction to this praise, is to laugh.  Me, brave?  I am a person whose life has been dominated by fear, for way too long.

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I’ve held back from trusting people, because I feared being hurt.

I’ve hung back in the shadows, afraid to stand out, because I feared rejection.

I spent 10 years in a situation that no longer suited me, because I was afraid to try something else.

I spend one year getting nothing more than one chapter done on my book, because I feared that it wouldn’t be good enough.

I’ve remained silent when I have seen other people being mistreated, because I feared that it would happen to me.

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We’ve all let fear get the upper hand, and we’ve all acted in ways that we are less than proud of.  I can criticize survival mode, because I’ve spent much of my life experiencing it.  Fear has been a constant state for me, for most of my 34 years on this earth.

So what does it mean, to be brave?  Does having courage mean that we’re never fearful?

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I don’t believe that it does.  I think that courage is simply a matter of making a choice.  It’s a matter of realizing that the risks of maintaining the status quo are greater than the risks of making a change.  It’s a matter of taking a situation that could destroy you, and using it to create something amazing. 

There is fear involved.  Great changes always involve some amount of fear.  But courage involves understanding the fear, acknowledging it, but moving forward anyway. 

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I was terrified the first time I sailed through a storm, but the prospect of never being on the water again was even more frightening.

I was terrified when I requested autism testing for my daughter, but I was even more afraid of her not getting the help she needed.

I was terrified the first time I opened up to all of you on this blog, but I was even more frightened of not accomplishing all I can with my writing.

I was terrified when I quit my job and moved across the country, but I was even more afraid of staying in a situation that made me unhappy.

I was terrified the first time I rode my bicycle to work, but I was even more frightened of not discovering another source of joy in my life.

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The risks of doing nothing, of staying on the shore, are almost always greater than the risks of trying something new.  Stagnation should scare you more than failure.  We humans have the amazing ability to get back up, after we fall flat on our faces, but we do not have the ability to turn back time, and to do all of the things that we wish we would have done.

We all experience fear, every one of us.  But have courage–work through it so that you will not look back on your life, and see nothing but a list of things you wish you would have done.  Our time here is precious, and it is up to us to make sure that we live fully.

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24 thoughts on “Thoughts on Courage

  1. such great timing! I’m about to start writing in a new way, on a new blog, and have also had a pretty huge change recently. I can identify with the fear of stagnation. Staying with the situation as it has been for so long scares the crap out of me. It’s time for something new (and scary, I might add).

  2. Hi Bethany,
    I’m loving this new philosophical slant to your blog! I was terrified of sailing through a storm once, too, but we sang show tunes through it and all turned out well. Now it’s one of my funniest memories.

    • Show tunes! That WOULD be funny.

      When we were taking on water after running aground, and had to motor through fog 6 hours to the nearest marina, the first thing I did was post on Facebook (I am not on FB anymore, but I was then), “Is it bad when water is coming through your floor?” It was my kind of humor, but then I did not think to let everyone know we had arrived safely. We got a LOT of phone calls over the next few days!

  3. “Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.” ~ Steve Jobs

    I think you read my mind and stole this idea so similar to what I was going to post tomorrow.

  4. Bethany!!! The “I was terrified…” series in your post brings about an intriguing thought for me. Since every phenomenon is potentially terrifying, perhaps we must become adept at choosing the lesser of two terrifying prospects. And adept at realizing that there is almost always a prospect more terrifying than the ones from which we choose. Great post! Have a sea shanty Tuesday!

    • And somehow, within all that terror, is pure bliss.

      Not sure how it works, only that it does!

      P.S. I totally found a bike trail, on my commute. It might cover the entire second half (the Pasadena leg). Suddenly, my life expectancy has increased exponentially… 😉

  5. Bethany, I wholeheartedly agree on the status quo and stagnation being the scariest. It sure is for me. I just kept wondering, Is this it? Really? I was 34 and sick and tired. Thank goodness because it made me do something – get off the damn couch and start living a life I could respect and love. It’s not been a straight line or fast and furious, but it’s the fun in not knowing everything but wanting it anyhow that gets me out of bed in the morning!

    Oh, wonderful news on the bike trail. What a find!!!

  6. Bethany,
    I do think you are brave to put your fears out here. You are also opening my mind, as someone who is not fully faced their own fears yet. Posts like this make me think about what I am doing and why. I have been very guilty of being a “pleaser”, and stagnating because of it. Why is it so scary to do something as simple as be ourselves? I have been so afraid of rejection in the past- but I am trying to embrace the un-perfectness of being me.
    Thank you for putting yourself out here.
    Katie

    • It is amazing how afraid we are, of rejection, isn’t it? And, truthfully, I did experience a great deal of rejection, before I moved. It will happen. The key is to seek out positive and supportive peers, which is what we’ve found here.

      I’ve had a lot of difficulty trying to accept and love my own imperfections. It’s a journey.

  7. I love this post. I let fear and guilt run my whole life until it made me seriously ill. I was 61 with nothing left to lose and let go of fear and guilt forever. I’m sorry I waited so long because the things I feared, haven’t happened. I didn’t have to sleep in my car and I get to eat regularly. My fear of hurting others was a mistake as well. It’s wonderful that you learned so much younger. I plan to enjoy every minute from now on realizing everything works out perfectly. You keep going. And keep writing.

  8. This is a strong, powerful piece of writing Bethany. My favourite line is “Stagnation should scare you more than failure.” Stagnation terrifies me. The idea of settling and complacency scare me just as much.

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