You may not know it, but you are wild with courage.
As a woman, I’ve been taught that I cannot be brave; courage, I’m taught, must be earned.
Too much of it (I am told) is demeaning, problematic, gauche. The wrong kind of bravery (I am also told) can drive me to unfortunate mountain peaks, make me howl in an unseemly way.
I’m telling you that you live and breathe brave, and this is neither too much nor too little. Your bravery is your power, and that always lives inside of you.
You just may not know it. You may just have to chase it a little bit. Fear is particularly good at clouding out our jam jars, our cupboards and closets, of courage.
You can find it today and you can find it now. You always can. Trust me.
Step willingly into terror.
Ironically, a powerful way to dissolve fear and encounter your vast reserves of bravery is to plunge elbows-neck-forehead into that fear.
What keeps you up at night? What starts the cycle of trepidation? What floods your skin with goosebumps (and not the shivery, pleasurable kind of goosebumps earned from a lover’s lips)?
I’ll tell you mine.
Presenting—anything—in front of others. Learning how to drive manual on empty country roads. The idea of being pregnant. Flying. The global water crisis.
These things lurk in my days like blinking, like breath. Or at least I think they do. The curious thing about these fearful situations is the fact that they are afraid to be challenged.
I practiced driving my partner’s old blue Land Cruiser (manual) on those hot back roads—every day. I traveled with a baby (not my own, but with a relative and her infant)—on a plane. I gave a talk about climate change at a community event—in front of a sea of strangers.
I still don’t want to be pregnant—yet—or board planes every day. (Turbulence and baby vomit are a wretched combination).
But when I forced myself to crawl into these spaces, they shrunk. The fear rose its head but ultimately cowered.
Step into what frightens you to recognize your power.
Envision your bravery.
Don’t let the vision of fear become a reality. If you want to be brave, if you need to be brave, visualize the nature of that bravery.
And don’t just strive to catch a glimpse of it. Don’t give it a hopeless little glance, one you’d give a cute guy at the supermarket who feels out of your reach.
Stare at it. Immerse yourself in it. Put yourself in the place of success. (Ask that cute guy out yourself!)
Positive visualization is immensely powerful. It even has some scientific credence. When you choose to guide your steps with visions of courage, you get to live that courage. (Win, win.)
If this exercise seems out of reach for any reason, ponder crafting a vision board: a small collage of your ideal future, your wildest dreams in action.
Put your feet on the floor.
Fear takes me out of my body; it ignites my imagination, and not in a good way. It erases the earth beneath my feet.
Sometimes, that’s where your bravery is lurking: in your toes and soles and arches. Put your feet on the floor—better yet, put your feet and hands on the floor. Ground. Breathe into the sensation of connecting with what’s beneath you.
Grounding in this way can prove your capacity to levitate, even to fly.
Prioritize your desires.
Authentic bravery does not cater to the wishes and needs of others. Not necessarily. When we act out of true courage, we often act for the sake of us, for the sake of our vital beating hearts.
Don’t think about what your partner or your aunt would want from you in a given situation. Think about what you want.
That may very well be to curl up in your comfiest armchair, turn on some Beyoncé, and doodle on a legal pad while sipping some Tito’s (yum). Submitting to fear can be the first thing that leads you to bravery, provided it’s on your own terms.
There is a time and a place for everything, and much fear is often justified; we may need the time to acquire certain skills, for example. But fear for the sake of others is never justified.
Sometimes you find your bravery after the fact. (Be okay with this.)
Bravery is not linear. We do not choose challenging situations, summon our courage, and methodically plunge in. (Not always, that is.)
In many cases, bravery surfaces after the fact.
I survived sexual assault. I safely left a dangerous, abusive relationship. In both of these instances, I acted from a survivor’s instinct—leave your things and go. I did not feel brave. I felt hopeless, betrayed, and mute.
I’ve learned that my bravery was living in my bones even in these instances; it shines even brighter in retrospect, and in the wake of courage I generated as a result.
After all, I left both of these situations with my life and a very big, very powerful heart.
Learn to find your bravery after terrifying moments—learn to see that it really never leaves.
Accept it when someone tells you.
Many people have told me, You were so brave to do that. How courageous of you. My impulse is to immediately deny them, if not verbally, then at least internally.
Don’t give into this desire. Accept the compliment. Smile. Say, “Why yes, I am brave.” Stand in that statement, good and true.
If you can’t accept it in the moment, make it your new mantra. Wake with the word Brave in your mouth. Write it on your mirror with lipstick. Frost it on a cake. See it until you believe it.
Say it out loud.
If all else fails, climb that mountain-top. Stand by the loneliest tree you see. Reach up on your tiptoes. Take off your shirt. Shout: I am brave. Shout it again.
I promise it will echo back, tenfold.