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“You’re so brave!”
I’ve heard this time and time again over the last several years as I’ve pushed to explore the world beyond my comfort zone.
I spent a large part of my twenties making a list of a few brave things I wanted to achieve each year, mostly to make up for the years that I spent being too shy, timid or scared to do much of anything. Skydiving, hang gliding, the Tough Mudder, running a marathon, these are just a few of the things on the list. And thrown in there have been unexpected, less adventurous, but no-less-brave things like getting my own apartment, owning a pet for the first time, breaking up with someone I really loved, and leaving a job I felt secure in.
But it may come as a surprise to some that I was not always so interested in being brave.
As a matter of fact, I think as a kid I was the farthest thing from it. I was never the girl who was the first to volunteer for something that could be even mildly construed as scary, and I was never the one with a disregard for or unawareness of fear. In fact, I was acutely, and nauseatingly aware of fear, danger, potential embarrassment, and the risk of life outside of my cozy comfort zone.
Truly, I was so petrified of anything that required “being brave”, that I preferred to sit on the sidelines, both literally and figuratively.
I was relieved to be taken out of games, even when I had chosen to be on the team. I stayed in situations that I didn’t want to be in just so that I wouldn’t cause a disruption in my life. And I enjoyed watching other people push themselves to do new things, believing that those things just weren’t meant for me, because they were far braver than I ever could be.
You see, the reason that I stayed in my comfort zone wasn’t so much because I worried what would happen if I tried.
It wasn’t the actual act or execution of whatever the thing was. It was the getting myself to do it, the anticipation, and all of the uncomfortable emotions that came with it. I thought I needed to feel brave to do brave things. And to me then, brave meant that I had no fear. That I felt sure and confident with my shoulders back and an absence of butterflies in my stomach. And I most assuredly, never felt sure, or confident.
What I did feel was queasy. A tingling in my cheeks like when the color drains from your face, even though I was actually a perfect shade of red as my face slowly overheated. My chest would get rashy, and itchy, which I took to mean that I was clearly allergic to doing anything brave, or new. And the sweating...oh the sweating. Combine that with the tightness in my chest and I was done for.
I was uncomfortable, I hated the anticipation, the waiting, the nervousness, the panic.
So I’d rather just not do it at all.
And that’s exactly what happened. I did nothing at all. Those uncomfortable, anxious feelings would come, and I’d decide it wasn’t worth it. That if I felt that way, then it wasn’t meant to happen. It wasn’t right. And it was just easier to give up than push forward. Because to me, I didn’t feel brave, or at least not brave enough.
But that’s the kicker.
Over the last several years I’ve realized that no one ever really feels brave. They are brave because they do it anyway.
They lean into all of those awful, messy, anxiety-producing feelings, and they do the darn thing anyway. THAT’S what brave is. It isn’t the absence of being uncomfortable, its knowing you’re uncomfortable and leaning straight into it. It’s sitting in and wading through the “yuck” even when you don’t want to because there’s something on the other side. A goal, an achievement, a freedom, or maybe just a sense of pride and satisfaction.
There’s something that you’re wanting, maybe even needing, and the frustrating, taxing, and sometimes distressing disruption is the toll to the other side.
I can honestly say that when I think back on it now, over all the things I’ve done that people look at me and say “You’re so brave!”, I can’t say that I once felt brave in any of those moments (Seriously. Who feels brave when they crawl to the edge of an airplane and JUMP OUT?!) . But I can say that I wanted to turn back, to run from the feelings, and just be done with what I was pursuing because those feelings couldn’t have been right. It was adding stress to my life that I didn’t need, and that had to mean it wasn’t worth it.
But you know what?
While I hated every second of feeling that way, it was always worth it in the end.
Those feelings turned out to be so temporary, and the stories, pride, growth, and confidence that I’ve gained from pushing into them has been worth every single one.
You see, if even just once, you can learn to hurdle forward, straight past your comfort zone, trudging through all the feelings you don’t want to feel, you’ll learn that it was all just temporary. It ends eventually, and what you’re left with is the satisfaction of knowing that you went ahead despite all that could have stopped you. And once you’ve done it once? You’ll know that you’re capable of doing it again.
Because you’ll have learned that being brave doesn’t mean feeling brave. It means moving forward when you feel anything but.