Courage is a Muscle

Brene Brown is one of my favourite authors, and more so in the season of life I’m currently in.  She talks a lot about courage, and how vulnerability and being weak requires great courage.

If you would have asked me (or my family) about my courage, I think there’d be no question I’m a brave person.

My husband still tells the story of a canoe trip where he and his brother were debating whether a waterfall was safe to jump off or not, and before they had even posed the question, I was in the air, taking the plunge.  (In my defence, I’d been there before and knew it was safe).

I moved to Northern Ireland as a 20-year old, just as they declared a ceasefire.  This was before texting and wifi, and long-distance rates were still a thing, so it meant calls home were limited to a couple times a month.

I lived and worked in the worst part of our city – the area “good folk” avoid or, if they can’t, lock their doors as they drove through.  I walked to and from work in this neighbourhood for ten years.

I’ve had knives held to my throat by convicted felons, confiscated weapons from gang members, travelled globally and had a pretty adventurous life.

Courage wasn’t the problem.

But here’s the thing about courage: courage is doing something scared.

Honestly, Winnipeg’s North End didn’t scare me.  It didn’t (and still doesn’t) require courage for me to live here.

Those gang members to me, were just kids.  I knew their little sisters and where they lived and their favourite chocolate bar.  It’s not hard to demand common sense and safety (like I’ll hang on to that weapon while you’re here, thank you very much) when you know someone’s middle name.  I’d been to that waterfall before, jumped off of it countless times – it was already a safe place for me.

So while I don’t want to ruin my reputation, I may have to confess that none of that required courage.

If courage is doing something scared, the most courageous thing I can do… is be a failure.  The bravest thing I can think of… is admitting I need help.  Like, embarrassing amounts of help for things “Normal” people can easily do.  

It takes courage for me to go to my therapist. Or admit I have one.

It takes courage for me to admit I’m on medication, and that I need it.

It took courage for me to run the kindergarten-of-all-races, the 5K.  I knew in my head it didn’t matter, but my heart said it’s just one more place for public humiliation and failure.  

It takes courage for me to walk away from a group setting because I’m getting overwhelmed.  I’d fake it longer if I could.

It takes courage to post articles on my blog that are honest and go deeper than I’d ever likely do in person.

If I’m honest, I’ve had to be more courageous in the last 3 months of my life than the rest of my life put together.

But you know what’s great about courage?

It’s a muscle.

Every time you exercise it, it grows.

The first time I published an honest blog post was by accident.  But the second one was easier.  

The first race I ran was terrifying.  I have hopes the next one will be easier.

The first time I hid in a group setting where I used to thrive I felt ashamed.  Now it’s becoming kind of normal.

I like my therapist.  I almost look forward to our sessions.

Soon this season of my life won’t require as much courage, either – not because everything changed so dramatically, but because little by little I’ve been exercising that muscle and it’s getting stronger.

Isn’t that a drink of cool water?  Such good news!  Things that require courage are always so overwhelming, so terrifying and often immobilizing.  What a lovely promise that while the first step is the hardest, it does get easier.  You aren’t stuck.  You can move forward.  You can get better at this.

Just borrow my mantra: “just show up.”  That’s usually the first step.  I can usually make it that far.  Once there, I get to decide if I can take the next step or if that’s as much exercise as I can handle for the day.  Tomorrow I can try again, and go a little farther.

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