What It Means to Be Brave

Image: Jennifer Grey and Patrick Swayze in Dirty Dancing (1987), Vestron Pictures

I’m Scared of Everything

“Me? I’m scared of everything. I’m scared of what I saw, I’m scared of what I did, of who I am, and most of all I’m scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I’m with you.”

When Francis “Baby” Houseman speaks those words in Dirty Dancing, we identify with her because we all know what it means to be afraid. Whether it is in our personal relationships or in our work life, there are things that hold us back from doing what deep down inside we wish we could or would do if there were no consequences.

I know all too well. I have beautiful children, a job, my health (relatively speaking), and a roof over my head. However, at any moment, an accident, an unexpected event, could take all these things away from me. I am a woman struggling to keep it all together, doing my best to support my kids and to keep life moving forward.

I know I am not alone in thoughts like these, but too often fear colors my thinking.

When do I choose to be brave?

What It Means to Be Brave

Bravery. It is a buzzword for our times. Look online and you will be inundated with campaigns targeted to make your life better. While some of those campaigns may be well intentioned, people sincerely trying to inspire you down a better path, others are only looking to make a buck on what they see as your weakness.

The problem is that being brave means different things to different people, and no one can really sell you on who you are. Only you know what you want out of life, and the way to get there will depend on your life circumstances. You and Warren Buffet are hardly going to have the same hurdles to overcome.

Simply put, there is no magic formula that is going to work for everyone.

If you are looking to make a change, you first have to think about what it means to be brave.

— to meet or face courageously
— to defy; challenge; dare

No matter what definition you use, being brave is about doing something outside of your comfort zone. To be honest, it might be more helpful to think what being brave doesn’t mean.

Being Brave ≠ Not Being Afraid

Fear makes us uncomfortable. It carries with it anxiety, risk, and uncertainty. Somehow, we brace ourselves against consequences that have not happened yet, filling our minds with slippery slopes and what-ifs. What we too often forget is that what-ifs can sometimes lead to great things.

Living according to our fears may not exactly make us complacent, but it can give us a false sense of security. When we are brave, we take a closer look at the reality of our situation and take risks to make it better. That won’t necessarily make the fear goes away.

It is okay to be afraid.

Being afraid is human. It means that you are aware that there could be consequences for your actions. It lets you prepare for possibilities in case things go wrong. It shows that you are responsible and thoughtful, that you care.

BUT… Rein it in! You can care TOO much, and fear can get out of control. When you find yourself unhappy, when you find yourself struggling, when you find yourself playing the victim, it means that something is not going right in your life. It means you need to make a change. That means stepping outside of your comfort zone and looking fear in the eye.

Ask what you can do to make things better, even if you are afraid to do it.

Being Brave ≠ Being a Superhero

Superheroes are the epitome of brave, right? Bruce Wayne as Batman. Clark Kent as Superman. Peter Parker as Spiderman. They are adventurous, confident, and driven. They use their superpowers and their gadgets for the good of mankind, but when you think of it, how brave is someone who hides behind a mask or alter ego?

We all do it to some extent. We hide behind masks. Whether we keep our stories private or we only share what we want the world to see, we control, to some extent, our image.

How many people have the perfect life online? The woman who always has the perfect hair and make-up. The mom who makes perfect Pinterest-inspired cupcakes. The overnight success story who wins, wins, wins. Odds are the woman with the perfect hair has bad hair days, the stay-at-home mom has burnt a cupcake or two, and the overnight success was years in the making. Things are not always what they seem.

Self-preservation is innate, and your business is your business. There is no obligation to reveal anything to anyone. After all, no one wants to expose their failures.

BUT… Our failures make us stronger. How we work our way out of a sticky situation, the lessons we learn, they allow us to grow. They make us the people we are, real-life survivors. Sharing who we are with other people, the people that matter to us, can strengthen our relationships and build trust. It adds meaning.

Letting people in is brave, even when you don’t have superpowers.

Being Brave ≠ Taking Big Risks

Someone with a fear of heights might go skydiving. Someone with stage fright could sing the national anthem at a nationally televised ball game. Another person could sell all their belongings and move to Paris for “a new beginning”. These things are brave. More than that, they are big and bold.

You can be equally brave by taking small but meaningful steps towards your goals. Simple action. Intentional, maybe even subtle. So long as it moves you forward.

Being brave can be as simple as trying a new food, as approaching someone you have a crush on, as reading a book on a controversial issue to get facts from both sides. Being brave is opening your mind to possibilities.

There will be people who are IN YOUR FACE with their bold moves. There will be people who flaunt their successes and brag about their dare-devil ways. There will be people who use their bold moves to belittle your smaller ones.

BUT… Being brave should not be about impressing other people; it should be about impressing yourself. Not everything brave has to be done on such a large scale. Only you have to know that an action is stepping outside of your comfort zone. Only you know if it is pushing you towards bigger and better things.

Any risk you take is brave, no matter how big.

Will You Be Brave?

How can you have “The Time of My Life”?

It is not an easy question to answer; just ask Baby Houseman.

It requires you to look deep within yourself.

Are you satisfied with your life as it is this very moment? If not, what do you wish you could change? How can you change it? What are your goals and passions? How badly do you want to reach them? What risks are you willing to take?

No one can tell you what you want, and in that way, no one can guide you on the path to happiness.

You have to be the one brave enough to ask yourself these questions and then brave enough to act on the answers.