Dear Lions —

Yesterday's conversation on this page (on the subject of "WHAT YOU ALLOW IS WHAT WILL CONTINUE") caused many of you to speak up on the subject of courage, or, sometimes, the lack of it. Namely, there was a lot of talk about wanting to make changes, but being afraid. Which is totally natural. (Both wanting to make changes, and being afraid.) And as I have heard people say many times before, yesterday I heard a lot of people saying, "I'm not a brave person."

I just wanted to say this morning that I don't believe courage is a monolithic virtue. Meaning, I don't believe that there is such a thing as a universally brave person, or a universally cowardly person.

In my family, for instance, I've had a reputation my entire life as being a quivering jelly-ball of fearfulness. I was just at a family reunion this weekend, where they were making fun of me AGAIN about being such a baby — and deservedly, because I remain cowardly about heaps of things. I'm afraid of almost all the powers in the natural world (Earth, Wind, Fire, Water). I'm afraid of speed in any form (fast cars, fast motorcycles, fast roller-coasters, fast bicycles.) I'm afraid of trampolines. I'm afraid of tsunamis. I'm afraid of earthquakes, sea snakes, tornadoes, and, now, Shark-nadoes. I'm afraid of scenarios where people are drinking too much. I'm afraid of emotional confrontations. I'm afraid of zip-lines, surfing, mountain-climbing, bungee-jumping, sky-diving. I'm afraid of jaywalking. I'm afraid of climbing trees. I'm afraid of debt. I'm afraid of taking a spinning class. I'm afraid that my friends marriages will fall apart. I'm afraid of not getting enough sleep. I'm afraid of just about everything I see toddlers and teenagers doing at any given moment. Etc. Etc. Etc.

I can so often be overheard warning people to PLEASE BE CAREFUL that my friend Margaret in Brooklyn has nicknamed me "Grandma Hand-Brake."

By almost every conceivable measure, then, I'm a coward. And I'm the first one to admit it. Except that nobody is a COMPLETE coward, so here are the three places where I find it incredibly easy to be brave: 1) I am fearless about expressing myself creatively, 2) I am not afraid to love, and 3) I'm not scared of meeting people. Upon these three pillars of simple (for me) courage, I have built my entire life of writing and friendship and travel.

What I'm trying to say, folks, is don't get locked in some idea of yourself or other people as having a fixed identity when it comes to courage. All of us are scared sometimes; all of us are brave sometimes. There are Navy SEALS who would vomit immediately at the thought of public speaking, for instance, whereas I'm like, "Give me that microphone!" Basically, everybody gets SOMETHING, entering this life, which causes to them to panic — but we also all get strengths that come to us naturally. Build on that thing — that thing which comes to you naturally. Nobody needs for me to be a competitive ski-jumper, and it would be dumb for me to try. I don't need to prove that I can leap out of airplanes, because the world doesn't need me to leap out of airplanes. Instead, I attempt to bulk up on my stores of courage where they already exist — to make my strong points even stronger. So find out where you are naturally brave, and INCREASE that. As for the rest of it, forget it.

Also, it is not necessary to be brave every single day. In fact, it's not even possible. It is only necessary to be brave — really brave — a few times in your life. I can trace all the great things in my life to about 8 or 9 moments in my 44 years when I really stepped up and pushed myself to take the frightening leap. You'll recognize that moment when it comes, because that will be the chance to completely change your life. When that moment comes — JUMP. The rest of the time, just relax. Save up your courage for when it counts.

What do you guys think? How have you built up your own courage over time? Where do you want to be even braver? What would it take? And how do you feel about sea snakes?


Grandma Hand-Brake

via Elizabeth Gilbert’s Facebook Wall