Recently, I heard the new song by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Be Afraid. (Check them out, if you haven’t heard them. They’re great. I especially love If We Were Vampires.) The lyric that jumped out at me was, “Be afraid, very afraid, but do it anyway.” Yes! This is what it means to be brave, to have courage.
It really resonated with me and some of my personal experiences.
When I left my full-time job, I had worked for 20 years for other people but had also been feeling pulled to take my career in a somewhat different direction. I wanted to support well-being in a more programmatic, more systematic, more proactive and preventative way. This didn’t fit with my job, and I wasn’t able to make the shift within boundaries that already existed. So I resigned, wanting to do things my way, and I started my business, Thrive Well-being.
My colleagues kept commenting on how brave I was, how they could never do this. Even my husband said this. The funny thing was, I really didn’t feel brave at all. I felt scared shitless- but I was going to do it anyway. I always pictured that someone who felt brave would, at least internally, feel strong and confident. This wasn’t how I felt at all!
After reflecting more, and doing some reading, I realized I WAS brave. Being really scared and still moving forward IS the definition of courage.
I love Brene Brown. If you’re not familiar with her works, please do yourself a huge favor and get one of her books or watch her TED talks. She’s written about the importance of being vulnerable-and the courage it takes to do so. Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead is a book I love and return to again and again.
She opens her book with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt:
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,
because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause;
who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who is at worse, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly.”
I thought about this quote a lot while moving out of my job and planning for my new company. I felt I had to be the person in the arena, covered in sweat and blood from my efforts. I had to take risks and be vulnerable. Starting a business definitely requires vulnerability. There is a lot of risk and doubt. What if I fail? What if leaving my job is the biggest mistake of my life? What if no one thinks I can help them thrive and improve their well-being? What if I’m not good enough, not smart enough, not charismatic enough?
To start my business, I had to put myself out there again and again, do things I had never done before as a therapist and professor. I had to design and build a website. I had to network. I had to start presenting more to get my name out there. I had to ask people for their business. I had to attend conferences in worlds that were new to me. I had to identify as an entrepreneur and join their groups.
I listened to the drive inside of me and followed my vision. This energized me and allowed me to follow this new path. And I’ve been loving it. I’m having fun and feel excited to do what I’m now doing. Looking back, I see now how brave I was, even though I felt anything but courageous at the time. And I’m so grateful I took this risk, even when I felt somewhat terrified.
Toward the end of her book, Brene Brown says, “But as I look back on my own life and what Daring Greatly has meant to me, I can honestly say that nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous, and hurtful as believing that I’m standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen.”
Yes! I did this, and it paid off for me in spades with invigorating work and increased happiness and well-being. I couldn’t agree more!!
It takes courage to do big things, like leaving your job and starting a business. But, it also takes courage for the small things that we do all the time. It takes courage to talk to a friend who hurt your feelings. It takes courage to raise your hand in class or volunteer to take on an additional responsibility at work. It takes courage to learn and to grow.
How can you be brave in your life? What small step can you take now, even if you are scared shitless?