Spirit of Life

Courage, my love

couple of weeks back, I wrote about the fun of riding the wave of a pleasurable challenge. What I didn’t mention in that post is that I had decided to make courage my word of the year. And one month in, I’ve actually learned some valuable things.

I wrote last week about how beloved Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh died recently. I’ve been thinking about his teachings a lot, especially his exhortation to stay in the present moment. We all know that Brene Brown has written extensively about the fact that courage requires vulnerability. But what I’ve figured out so far is that courage requires an extraordinary capacity to stay in the present moment. It’s only in the present moment that we can make that assessment: what’s going on here? What part am I playing in it? How do I feel about this? What might this moment require from me?

Part of the reason why I chose courage is my word of the year is because I had begun to see that actions I was taking and calling them discernment were, in some cases, just plain old hiding. Ugh. Deciding that something simply wasn’t my problem, for example, was actually sometimes avoidance. Throwing my hands up and saying “I can’t control their actions,” turned out to sometimes be a denial of my own needs.

(I really, really did not like this discovery about myself.)

The muscle I think I’m developing is not courage itself as much as it is the skill of identifying moments in which I could be courageous. It takes not only courage but skill to stay in the present moment. When you’re under stress, the thing you want most is out, whether that’s just mentally checking out by turning to social media or physically leaving. By being intentional about courage, I’m building up a mental scanner now, looking for moments when I could step up and be brave. Most of these moments are at work, of course, but to my surprise, many are available at home, in my intersections with my spouse, my kid and even myself.

Courage in the past couple of weeks has looked like:

  • getting out of my child’s way when I really, really wanted to butt in on their high school applications
  • speaking up for myself and a colleague to someone two levels senior to me in a meeting with 8 other people 
  • choosing not to call a co-worker to give her a piece of my mind until a challenging situation had been resolved
  • pointing out it was important that a particular work assignment include a lens on fatphobia and weight stigma (and then being thrilled when the group agreed)

And there was one more thing, something else truly wild and unexpected. I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had decided to post a TikTok every day, even when I didn’t especially feel like it. Other than declining when I felt ill from my covid vaccine for a couple of days, I’ve kept up my streak. And now something very surprising (for me) has happened: a super vulnerable video I made about aging is kinda doing numbers.

This is obviously really neat for me, but by far the best part about it are the comments from countless other middle-aged women who have told me how much they resonate with my video. It feels amazing to have turned my challenging, vulnerable feelings into a cultural product that other people feel connected to. I’m really proud of my vulnerability and, yes, my courage, and feel a little in awe that the result of that has been helping other women feel seen. It is WILD to me that the only thing standing in the way of connecting with all those people was my own courage.

What I love about all of this is the knowing that being courageous and vulnerable is something available to all of us in many, many moments throughout the day. It just requires some presence and some skill, both of which can be cultivated.

Tell me about your relationship with courage. Questions I’m thinking about are things like, how much does courage require safety as a pre-requisite, and how can one person’s courage make things worse for others? Share your wisdom, please!