I’ve always considered myself to be a brave person.
Not physically brave. And given that a sprained toe that is supposed to take two to three weeks to heal is for me taking three months and counting, you can maybe begin to see why. I’ve got a different risk/reward ratio going on there.
But emotionally brave, absolutely.
In college it was about a ten minute walk down to the music building from where I lived. I’d be trundling downhill to go to an audition, and I wasn’t the hot shit in the music department AT ALL, so I knew the odds of me getting anything were incredibly slim at best. And in my head, I’d think, “This is absolutely insane. Why am I doing this? I could just turn around right now and go home. That is a real option for me.” And then I’d think, “Yup. And now I’m going to audition, goddamnit.”
And I wouldn’t get the part, but it kind of didn’t matter because I’d won just by showing up prepared and doing my thing. (It also kind of did matter, but after a while you get used to rejection so that it’s just this normal crappy thing that happens a lot.)
It actually became a point of pride for me, that if something made me frightened (except for physical things because I also care about self-preservation), I would make myself do it.
Recently, someone pointed out that often bravery is an action of willpower, and a lightbulb went off for me. No wonder I think I’m brave! I have willpower up the wazoo! And I’m very, very good at getting myself to do the things I’ve decided I want or need to do.
Anyway, lately I’ve been having some trouble being brave, which is unusual for me, but, well, it’s happening. I’m having to use all my willpower, which I hardly ever do, and I’m still really struggling. Like tonight, I have to do this thing–have a conversation, actually–and thinking about it makes me feel literally ill, that’s how afraid I am to do it. But this is a great chance to notice some concrete ways to cultivate bravery, right? Right.
For instance, I know I want to avoid this conversation. It would be so easy to just…not do it. So I’ve made concrete plans around it to make it easier to do it than to not do it. And I’m writing about it here, and by the time this post publishes tomorrow morning, I’d better have done it. So I have created some built-in accountability. Yes, I could cancel the plans and I could change this post, but the effort of having to do those things will encourage me to stick to the original plan.
I’m trying to stay in touch with reality. Because reality is, this conversation does not have the power to destroy my life. Not even close. So thinking about unrelated stuff in my life that I’m happy about is actually really helpful for staying grounded and keeping perspective. Likewise, I’m doing my best to think about the conversation going well and all the reasons it might go well, and to avoid thinking too hard about the conversation going poorly. Aka I’m practicing positivity.
I’m doing my best to keep it simple. I find it’s really important when making plans to set goals I can actually meet. I don’t mean that you have to set easy goals, but rather realistic goals. Writing a novel, for example, is not easy, but I can make a plan to write a novel that, based on past experience, I’m pretty confident I can follow. So for this conversation, my goals are to show up and ask for one thing. It’s not going to be easy to ask for the one thing, and it doesn’t help that I hate asking for anything, but I’m pretty sure I can do it because at least it’s only one.
I’m being kind with myself. I’m using up so much willpower right now, that means I don’t have a lot of it left over for other things. Which means I’m not being super productive right now. But I’m being passably productive, and everything important is being taken care of, and that’s good enough.
And finally, I’m quite happy to lean on some good old-fashioned stubbornness, of which I always have a large supply.
I still think I’m a brave person. I think I will go, and I will feel queasy, and I will stammer a whole bunch, and I will have this conversation.
Just because bravery isn’t always easy or flashy or elegant or clean doesn’t make it any less true.