When I was younger (more idealistic and naïve maybe?) I thought that you were either born with courage or you weren’t; I most definitely wasn’t! As I’ve grown older (wiser?) and dived into personal growth, I’ve been asking the question ‘What is courage?’
The earliest meaning of the word ‘courage’ is ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ But this has been skewed and altered over millennia and now we think of courage as heroic acts of bravery.
We have also been conditioned to believe what an act of heroic bravery is. They are usually things like saving a child from a burning building, tackling a mugger and saving an elderly person or having a heroic profession like a paramedic, a soldier or a fire-fighter (to name a few).
If we believe that courage does indeed mean ‘heroic acts of bravery’ and we have fixed ideas of what and who commits those heroic acts, what does that mean for us mere mortals?
Well if I was to say to you, ‘Do something courageous today’ you’d probably have a severe wobbly or even a complete meltdown! ‘Say what? You want me to do what now? Oh no, that’s not me, I’m a sit-on-the-sofa-with-a-cup-of-tea-and-a-Sandra-Bullock-film kinda girl!!’
You need to re-write those beliefs and meanings, not to detract from the quite frankly incredible things our rescue services, medical professionals and protectors do for us, but to realize that courage isn’t only about the big things.
For you, courage may be getting out of bed every morning and just starting your day. It may be going on a first date after a painful break-up. It may be having that tricky conversation with a loved one. It may be asking for a pay-rise. It may be choosing to not follow the pack. It may be doing something that everyone around you thinks is ridiculous/dangerous/stupid. It may leaving your home town for a new job. It may be leaving your job, or leaving your marriage.
Whatever it is for you, I encourage you to do it…I invite you to speak your mind by telling all your heart
Of course the problem with that what if it’s too late for you to live a courageous life? and this is one of the more regular questions I get asked.
The question comes out of a lot of beliefs and mind-sets around getting older. We all have an image of the ‘older woman’, how she looks, what she does, how she’s perceived, what it means for us, and most of it is less than positive.
It’s true that as you age some things get more difficult (getting up from the sofa without making that ‘old lady noise’, seeing which eye-brow bristle to pluck), but it’s equally true that some things are so much easier!
Getting to midlife gives you the opportunity to evaluate what’s really important to you and what you really can’t be arsed with any more and it gives you the confidence to be able to think for yourself, to challenge what’s always been and forge ahead into the life of your own creation.
But the path from there to here can sometimes be a bit bumpy and tricky to navigate.
Think of yourself as a magnificent ship in the harbour of a beautiful village. At some point over the last 30 or 40 years you proudly and majestically sailed into this beautiful, safe place and set anchor.
But now it’s a bit run down, a bit crowded and you’re not really comfortable there any more – but everyone and everything you know is there. You look wistfully out at the ocean, imagining what could be beyond the horizon; what magical islands and exciting cities are out there? What adventures await you on the great rolling expanse of the water?
But you’re anchored to this harbour and even when you try to pull up that chunk of metal, people run to you and push it back down to keep you safe and steady.
But you’re a ship and your sails were meant to be billowed with the wind taking you far and wide with the salt in your hair and on your lips.
You may be scared at what’s out there, you may fear that you’ll be hurt, humiliated, abandoned or worse, but just as a ship was never designed to stay safe in the harbour, neither were you.
You sailed the seas to get to this harbour and you can sail them again. You are in charge of the map, the compass and the wheel and you can sail wherever you damn well please – for as long as you damn well want to, so no, my lovely, it is never too late for you to live a courageous life.
Thanks to the fabulous work of Brene Brown, we have a whole new understanding on what vulnerability is and isn’t and how being vulnerable linked to being courageous. If you’ve not heard of Brene Brown or seen what she does, check her out…literally typing anything to do with vulnerability and courage into your browser search bar is guaranteed to place millions of Brene Brown results to your living room!
We are taught to be courageous, brave and daring, but never to be vulnerable – avoid that at all costs! But if courage cannot exist without vulnerability, how can you be courageous whilst avoiding being vulnerable?
Therein lies the paradox. As women in midlife, we have an awful lot of conditioning to get past and a whole lot of outdated beliefs to observe and shed. Plus we must understand the brave new world of social media presence, reality TV and the hundreds of ways it seems we are expected to open ourselves up to the judgmental gaze of the world.
Brene defines vulnerability as ‘uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure’ and puts it to us that you cannot have any act of courage without uncertainty, risk and emotional exposure (just ask a fire-fighter, coast-guard or paramedic)
So does that mean we all have to go about our lives being 100% open, honest and transparent for all the world to see?
No. Because with vulnerability you also have to have discernment and that’s where the safety-line sits.
You get to choose who sees your vulnerability. You get to choose who you share those most painful, tender parts of yourself with and you get to choose the level of disclosure those privileged ones get to see.
The rest of Brene’s definition goes like this….
“The definition of vulnerability is uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. But vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our most accurate measure of courage.
When the barrier is our belief about vulnerability, the question becomes: ‘Are we willing to show up and be seen when we can’t control the outcome?’
When the barrier to vulnerability is about safety, the question becomes: ‘Are we willing to create courageous spaces so we can be fully seen?”
What are your thoughts?