Finding Your Brave to Live the Life You Crave
Henry David Thoreau once said that the majority of “men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” For many of us, we ascribe to this belief that the enemy of our soul is mediocrity. However, even with this aspiration, we often still fall victim to fear, and to the voices inside of us that tell us to stay small and to those voices around us that tell us to “play it safe.” To unearth the suppressed songs that play out within us means to reconnect with the bravery that shaped who we are today.
“Should I?” or “Shouldn’t I?” We wrestle with this question on a daily basis, as we face situations that call on our bravery in all aspects of our lives. Should I end this relationship? Should I ask for that raise? Should I set that boundary? Should I leave my job? In my coaching practice, especially with those clients who have had highly successful careers over the last ten to twenty years, I often hear this reflected with a similar questioning: “But is this all there is?” “Am I selling my soul?” or “Is this really the fullest expression of who I am?”
For me, this deep turmoil surfaced when the pandemic hit and I realized that the life I was living was not congruent with who I was at my core. I was clear on the values that I espoused, but I was living them out in a different way than I espoused by staying at my 9-5 on the East Coast, and this caused me deep internal turmoil. So, I dug deep and called on my courage to start my own career coaching company and move West, to a place that is much more philosophically aligned with who I am.
Here are some of the lessons that I learned and some strategies that helped me to find my own 'brave', as I moved in the direction of a career and life that was more aligned:
1. Being brave is not being fearless; being fearful is essential to being brave. The hallmark of fear is acting despite the feeling of being afraid. Instead of being petrified by something and running away from it, when you are brave, you choose to intentionally move through it. Similar to fear, bravery isn’t something that is naturally inherent in us from birth, but instead, bravery is something that we learn to cultivate over time. When was the last time you did something that scared you? How did you overcome that fear and what was on the other side?
How can you further cultivate bravery, you ask? You can do this by first asking yourself: when was the last time you did something for the first time?
2. Embrace your childhood. When you were little, you were brave almost every day because you were constantly encountering situations where you were doing things for the first time (i.e. rode a bus, made a friend, swam in the ocean). You also probably had people cheering for you along the way. Think back on some of these childhood experiences and reflect on the strength that was required of you to overcome those fears. Was it the support you received? Was it the excitement you felt towards that new experience? Leverage these realizations to create an environment conducive to bravery just as an adult.
If you’re interested in an added personal and professional exercise: as you reflect on this smaller and younger you, think about if/how you are making that child proud with the life you’re currently living and the person that you’ve become today?
3. Mirror test. Over the years of supporting others with their own transformations, I've learned how central the “mirror test” is when it comes to finding bravery. Oftentimes we decide to do or not to do the courageous thing because somebody else is telling us how risky or unsafe it will be. Our nearest and dearest tend to be hypervigilant towards the risk factors due to their love for us, and some of these naysayers might even go to the extent of sharing "I wouldn't do that if I was you." This “mirror test” allows us to take a closer look at who we are when we ask ourselves, "Will I be more proud of myself if I decide to do this or if I decide not to do this? And if I don't do this, how will I perceive myself in the mirror?”
This additional layer of accountability will help you live with a decision given the understanding that you thoroughly evaluated an idea and then made the active decision to pursue or not pursue something. More often than not, it is when we avoid a decision entirely that we lack pride in ourselves, although sometimes the act of courage is the act of saying no. Think about the decision that is going to let you look in the mirror afterwards and say, "I can live with who I am because I made that choice.”
4. Regrets. Sometimes the question of bravery stems from where you will have the most regret in life. How will making a decision or not making a decision feel to you when your time on this planet comes to an end? This was the dimension that was most profound for me in my own journey over the last two years: I knew that I needed to tell my story in this way and in this new place in order to come alive, and I knew that my life would’ve felt empty without these pursuits.
I hope that these strategies help to empower you to find the bravery you need to fight off uncertainty and fear, so that you can go out and tell your true story to the world.