Redefining Brave

Barbara A. Bernard

Barbara A. Bernard

One of my sheroes, Eleanor Roosevelt, once said, “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.” With these words, she captured the essence of living in discovery. To be willing to move forward “without fear” is our choice to make.

In Birthdays of the Soul, I tell about the time when I drew a mountain, and wrote on it a list of all the new challenges ahead of me in the next few months of my life. The prospect of doing even some of those things felt overwhelming. When I showed the drawing to one of my compassionate witnesses, she pointed out that the only reason the tasks loomed so large was that they were unknowns and I was afraid of them.

Now as I look back on that “mountain of fear”—the list of things I had never done that I was afraid of—I can see that they all got done. Reviewing this list is very gratifying because each item represents something I was able to accomplish despite my fear. Reading and rereading this list reminds me that I faced my fears, I was brave, and I found my courage. In so doing, I strengthened my inspired Champion and informed my inspired Guardian and Judge.

On the other side of fear was a life I couldn’t imagine when I was trapped inside my self-imposed limits. Once I chose to be brave and face each fear one by one, I learned more about myself and what I’m capable of.

I’ve also learned to measure my progress in terms of my own past successes. Comparing ourselves against other people and their accomplishments interferes with our own journey of bravery and courage. Bravery is highly individual. What is brave for you is all that matters.

Here are examples of bravery I have heard in the last two weeks:

  • The fellow who went to a party alone for the first time as a newly single personArtSupplies3
  • The woman who for the first time showed another individual something she’d written only for herself
  • Someone else who shared a confidence with a friend as an adult, having always been taught to keep his inner life, thoughts, and emotions private
  • The person who traveled to another country and rented a car, knowing it would mean driving on the other side of the road
  • A man who consulted a therapist for the first time—making the call, following through, and driving to the appointment
  • A woman who attended a service in a faith community that was different than the traditional faith she’d been raised in
  • Another who bought a bunch of art supplies and privately experimented with drawing and painting, even though she was convinced she couldn’t do art

Our wonky selves whisper to us with fears, limits, and outdated beliefs and stories. Little fears and big fears can strangulate possibility in our life if left unexamined or challenged for truth. If you reread these real-life examples, you will see that in each case these individuals were choosing to expand their lives beyond the known and beyond their fears.They chose to move past their internal fear-based language that spoke in terms of self-doubt and limits. We can remember these examples at times when we are afraid. When we’re uncertain and don’t feel confident enough to proceed, or when the “I can’t” comes to the forefront of our thoughts, we need to ask, “Really? Is that thought true?”

In the process of choosing to be brave, you will discover new parts of yourself. When you carry through with your personal version of brave, you need to remember to take notice. Keep a list. Find a person to celebrate with and put this story of bravery in your I Can file. Building and reviewing your I Can memories will serve to keep your wonky self in check and will continue to fuel your inspired self.

Life changes for the better when it isn’t controlled by a catalog of fears. Being brave, facing even your tiniest fears every day, is what a life of discovery is all about.