I owe the title of this post to Elizabeth Gilbert. I have adored her since reading Eat, Pray, Love in high school and now I’m reading her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear.
Last night, I was reading a section about how being courageous isn’t the same as being fearless. Our fear serves a purpose; it often keeps us safe and healthy. To be fearless would be unsafe. Courage is actually about acknowledging and welcoming the fear, and moving forward with it in tow.
But courage isn’t easy.
I have lived a life of constant fear. I used to be afraid of telling the waitress my order. As a kid, I’d lean into my dad’s shoulder and ask him to say it for me. As I’ve gotten older, I have grown more courageous, but I still get nervous – like a couple days ago when I had to go to the DMV by myself to register my car in California. It took me an hour to get out of bed and find the courage to just do it. (I did, by the way, and even put my new plates on myself, tools and all!). But for the most part, I have decided not to live from fear anymore. I grew from being a little girl afraid of ordering her food into the woman who loves engaging her neighbor in the checkout line in a conversation to help pass the time.
What made the difference? Deciding to acknowledge my fear, swallow it, and move forward with it, knowing it’s still strong in my gut but it’s at least not in the driver’s seat. Oftentimes the more we fight our fear or try to disengage it, the more it actually takes over. I told my therapist once that if my life were like driving a car, I have always tried to put fear in the trunk, but then it usually seeps into the engine and takes control of the wheels, and before I know it, I’ve lost total control over the car. But if I follow Elizabeth Gilbert’s advice, and welcome fear along the journey (since there’s clearly no getting rid of it), and allow it to sit in the passenger seat, then I can remain courageous and won’t as easily lose control.
We all have things we fear – and I don’t mean just heights or spiders. I mean the fear of failure, or of being alone, or of speaking up. Notice when the anxiety creeps up for you, and when it is holding you back from doing something you truly actually want to do. And this time, rather than trying to tell yourself you shouldn’t feel afraid, try welcoming the fear. Say, “I hear you, I see you.” Validate it. Welcome it. And invite it to go with you.
As Deena tells her warrior son in The Red Tent, “Every act of bravery has the pre-requisite of fear.”
What makes us courageous is not being fearless; it is feeling that fear and deciding to go forward anyway.