Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Brave New Year

I was recently asked to come up with a short list of adjectives to describe myself, and to my surprise one of the words that popped into my mind was ‘courageous.’ That’s not how I usually see myself, and I wondered how that particular term managed to weasel its way to the top of my thoughts. I began by attempting to define the word.

First of all, courage isn’t the absence of fear. As the old saying goes, only a fool is never afraid. Courage is simply this: The ability to do whatever needs to be done, regardless of fear. Just do it, as the commercial says, no matter how many knots your gut is tied in, no matter how shrill the voice of terror that shrieks in your head, no matter how hard you shake.

Well, I certainly experience my share of fear, all the usual mother/wife/businessperson/member-of-the-modern-world type stuff. So I’ve got that part sewn up. But what about the other bit, the doing-it-anyway part?

When I was a child and someone asked me to define bravery, I would describe a firefighter or police officer doing their job, facing daily peril, knowing this call could very well be their last. That’s courage embodied, no doubt about it. But what about us ordinary folk, the ones whose daily lives don’t involve the risk of grievous bodily harm or imminent death?

I thought back to the first award my daughter ever earned in Girl Scouts, when she was a Daisy: the Courage petal. She earned it the same way the other timid, fidgety 5-year-olds in her troop did: by reciting, by heart, the Girl Scout Law, in front of a room full of adults. Courage indeed. Just do it.

I suspect we’re all a good bit braver than we give ourselves credit for. Just thinking back through my own life, I can count off many instances of courage: Telling my first husband I wanted a divorce. Fighting for the medical care my disabled daughter needed. Running my first big natural health workshop. Sending my manuscripts off to publishers and agents, again and again, in spite of a pile of rejection notices. And of course, the big one: Admitting I’m wrong.

So yeah, maybe I am courageous. Maybe you are, too. How many times have you gritted your teeth and done whatever needed to be done, regardless of the butterflies in your stomach? How many times have you faced a person or situation that scared you, right to your bones? A lot, I’ll bet. More than you think.

In the end, I added the word ‘courageous’ to the list of adjectives I used to describe myself. I hope you’ll do the same. Sometimes, just facing life every morning is an act of courage. Give yourself credit for it, and have a brave new year.