“Bravery is being the only one who knows you’re afraid.”
Franklin P. Jones
“Bravery is the capacity to perform properly even when scared half to death.”
Sometimes, I never learn. You would think having done this whole “moving to London” thing before, I’d have taken a more relaxed approach during the summer leading up to this year’s Big Move. Two years ago, I was so worried about finding a place to live across the pond I’d practically memorized every listing on sites like Gumtree and Craig’s List, so frequently did I visit them (feel free to read “visit” as “stalk”). In many ways, I did chill out, but when my university opened up its Daily Vacancy List in June as a place where registered landlords could list their flats and students could begin the hunt, I found myself slipping into my old ways…Adding the DVL to my morning routine of checking email, Facebook, etc. Buying Skype credit. Calling landlords with the slim hope they’d be understanding enough to send me pictures in lieu of the standard viewing.
And so it was that with a week to go before my departure, I was on the verge of panic. A feeling akin to helplessness almost made me want to call the whole thing off. I was in Baltimore, on the tail end of a roadtrip around the East Coast to visit old friends I hadn’t seen for ages, and sitting in my friend Emily’s flat alone one morning, I couldn’t help but think, what have I got myself into? The plans I had to stay with friends in London once I arrived fell through, nearly every hostel was booked full, and I thought:
Right. I’ve got to remind myself why I’m doing this.
Thankfully, two things recently got me thinking about the idea of bravery and courage and helped combat the feeling of just wanting to pull the covers over my head and never come out, let alone board an international flight.
One is a book I picked up called Just Courage, written by Gary Haugen, president and CEO of International Justice Mission (IJM). The book’s underlying mission is to address the nagging sense of boredom and restlessness so many people feel today. I haven’t read much of it yet, but I love the distinction he draws between being safe and being brave:
“Fear is normal, even among the earnest and devout, and it can be overcome. But first we must see the opportunity it provides–a revelation that only comes as we step to the precipice of action” (130).
The second thing was getting coffee with a family friend one morning a few weeks ago. Just about to start her senior year of college, she asked to meet with me to talk about “the future.” As soon as she said it, I remembered myself in her shoes – and didn’t envy her a bit, of course. Nothing’s worse than the vague feeling of coming to the edge of a cliff – that very “precipice” Haughen refers to – in those last few months before graduation. So I gave her my full attention in our neighborhood Starbucks, listening to her mull over post-graduation options as diverse as working for IJM in Cambodia or perhaps another non-profit closer to home in DC.
She then asked me questions about my life since graduation and I related it to her in hopes of encouraging her that even our Plan C’s and D’s can work out for the best.
“You’re so brave,” she said, and I was close to setting my mocha down and spinning around in my seat to see who she was talking about – for it certainly wasn’t me. I thought back to a time in my senior year when I decided to go to Nashville for a weekend songwriting conference hosted by the Gospel Music Association. “You’re going by yourself?” a friend had asked during class one day. I told her I was, only to be puzzled by her reply: “That’s so brave of you.”
Or flashback a year and a half to me in Dulles Airport, waiting to board a plane that would carry me to New Zealand. I was crying so hard I couldn’t even form the words to say “goodbye” to my sister on the phone. I hardly imagine anyone who saw me that day would have turned to their friends and said, “Well doesn’t that girl look brave?” But when I tell people now what I did, that’s always one of the first words out of their mouths.
So in short, here are three quick things I think I’m starting to learn about the idea:
1. Bravery looks different for everybody. The boundaries of our comfort zones are rarely drawn along the same lines – what may stretch me might be old hat for someone else, and vice versa.
2. Bravery is less about a conscious decision as it is a gut reaction. It’s usually something we know we just have to do, not spend hours mulling over it.
3. Bravery is acting in spite of fear, not in its absence.
Bravery, I’ve found, has little to do with a lack of fear but rather what we do with our fears. Do we let them control us, paralyse us, keep us in our comfort zone? Or do we show them who’s in control, relegating them to their proper place – as a roadmap for action, not a roadblock? I think it’s good to do something every now and then that scares the hell out of us, good to feel that tight, gripping sensation in the middle of our chests and know that what we’re about to do, we want so badly we’re scared to move towards it.
Sometimes, it’s not about being brave, it’s just about not letting our fears get the best of us. It’s about getting on a plane, even if there isn’t much waiting for us on the other side. About sending an email, picking up the phone, doing whatever it takes to get us closer to our dreams.
As the protagonist of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World says (yes, apparently Sherlock wasn’t his only creation!):
“…it is only when a man goes out into the world with the thought that there are heroisms all round him, and with the desire all alive in his heart to follow any which may come within sight of him, that he breaks away as I did from the life he knows, and ventures forth into the wonderful mystic twilight land where lie the great adventures and the great rewards.”