I was listening to an episode of the On Being podcast with Krista Tippett, featuring guests Glennon Doyle and Abby Wambach. They talked a lot about courage in that episode, and I was struck by a quote one of them recited on that topic. I've tried to find the quote on Google, and there are many quotes on this theme attributed to everyone from Franklin D. Roosevelt to Mark Twain to Nelson Mandela to Bruce Lee. And of course, because it's Google it's hard to track down the exact quote attributed to each person, because there is variation even amongst those attributed to a single person. For the sake of argument, let's pick this version of the quote which has been attributed to Mark Twain:
Courage is not the lack of fear. It is acting in spite of it.
When thinking about courage it might be natural to think of heroic acts of courage, such as someone running into a burning building to rescue those inside. But there are so many ways we demonstrate courage in our own lives that have nothing to do with putting ourselves in physical danger. I have someone important in my life who has exhibited courage in her own ways. She had been teaching for about ten years when she started feeling drawn to becoming a therapist. She decided to put herself back in school to become a therapist, carrying the load of the school work along with working full time as a teacher. It has been a very long process to complete the courses as well as get the practical hours of seeing patients while under supervision, all while continuing to be a dedicated teacher. It would have been a lot easier to stay the course and keep being a teacher, ignoring the call within her to change professions. To embrace that disruption in her life, particularly for the many years it takes in that case to get from the decision to change to where you have realized that dream and can be a full time therapist, takes courage. This same person also came out a couple of years ago, which was another way she has shown her courage. Like Glennon Doyle in the podcast interview referenced earlier, she was already married when she realized she was gay. She went through the process of unearthing within herself who she truly was, and then courageously embracing that truth with honesty as she opened up to everyone she loves, including her husband, about that realization. It has been so beautiful to see her transform in these past few years, becoming more and more solidified in her purpose and truth.
Imagine yourself in her shoes, with both of those transformations. You have a solid job which keeps you busy, you are good at it and dedicated to it, but you start feeling pulled in another direction. You already have gone to university for the profession you are in, you're comfortable, you know what you're doing, and you could definitely just keep plugging along. Would you answer the call, or would it be too much disruption? One path is comfortable, easier, rewarding in its way, and the other is unknown and requires a new investment of time (years and years) and money. It would be scary to give up the former for the latter! You may think you will have rewards in the form of fulfillment with that change, but you don't know if that will be the reality. And, you know that you don't know for sure if that will be the reality! The same goes for coming out. You have a great husband, a comfortable home, you're essentially balancing two careers successfully. Do you go through the difficulty of putting your truth out there and letting that comfort go, or do you honor that truth and have the faith that if you follow the truth it will lead you in the right direction? I believe you must meet the truth, embrace the truth, and follow the truth where it takes you. Is that scary? YES! Does that mean you ignore the truth? NO!
There are opportunities we all have to face the truth in our lives. On a much smaller scale than what I just described, I have needed a certain amount of courage as I have let go of eating meat and drinking alcohol. I stopped eating meat many years ago, but before I stopped I never had any special diets. I felt I wanted to become a vegetarian for many years before I actually became one. I worried that I would miss eating meat, but even more than that I worried about being an inconvenience for others. My husband and I weren't married yet, but we lived together and I worried that he would be restricted by my decision. I worried about putting an extra burden on people who might invite us over for dinner, making them feel like they had to put extra thought and preparation in because I wouldn't eat meat. I worried about being perceived as thinking I was superior or high maintenance. But, at the end of the day, I felt that the right decision for me was to stop eating meat. In the end, I had to listen to that truth within myself and let go of what it meant for others to adjust to that. It was just last year that I decided to stop drinking alcohol, and I had the same feelings at that time that I remembered from when I became a vegetarian: what does this mean for other people. Will I be seen as less fun/too serious, will it make others feel self-conscious about their drinking, will I be inadvertently putting up a wall, what if I changed my mind and then "failed" after putting myself out there as a teetotaler? But again, ultimately I wanted to make my energy sharper and it seemed like a necessary step to do that. I had to honor what was true for me and my growth, even though I had some reservations about possible fallouts. At the end of the day, this is my life. It is my responsibility to live it in the right way for me.
How are you courageous? How do you push yourself beyond what is comfortable in order to pursue your truth? If you find that you tend to back away when you encounter that fear, try leaning into it instead and see how you grow. Follow your truth.
I am an Ananda® certified meditation teacher. I am passionate about meditation and embrace a yogic lifestyle for greater wellness physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
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