Courage or Fear?

Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.

Brene Brown

Childhood Fears

I’ve never considered myself a brave person. When I was younger, I was afraid of my own shadow. If it was dark and I had to go outside alone to fetch something from the yard or the outhouse, I would run back inside like the hounds of hell were on my heels and, when I got to the back door of the house, I would gather my composure and act like nothing had happened – like I was a brave little girl who wasn’t afraid of the dark. 

And that’s just the start of it. For you see, I pretty much lived in fear. Fear of failure. Fear of putting myself out there, of making friends, of being judged. I was afraid of public speaking, afraid to sleep alone or to even be alone in a room by myself. My mind would conjure up the most terrifying scenarios of all the things that could go wrong, real and imagined, tangible and ghostly. And I would judge myself – harshly, for being afraid, for being a coward.  

The thing is, what I didn’t realise at the time, is that even though I was afraid, I would never let-on to anyone that I was afraid. I would do the things that scared me, even though I was terrified. I’d fetch the ball from the yard, even though I was afraid of the dark. I would smile and talk to people, even though I was afraid of being shunned. I would stay home alone even though I was afraid of being alone in an empty house after school, waiting for my mum to come home from work. 

Cowardice or Courage?

You see, I was more afraid of being viewed as a coward than of the fear itself. And so, I ended up doing those things that scared me most without realising that I was, in fact, NOT being cowardly for being afraid, but rather, being courageous for acting despite the fear. And looking back now, I realise that by consistently choosing to lean into the fear and acting anyway, I over time became less and less afraid of doing those things that used to scare me the most.  

For example, when I used to talk in public, my legs would literally quiver. My voice would waver. My heartbeat would accelerate. I would be a mess. But when I got up to speak, I would do my best to hide my fear and I would act as if I were confident, not as if I was terrified. Over time, what ended up happening is that I became known as a public speaker  among my friends, my family, my classmates, my colleagues. I would often be called to speak at events and parties, marriages and funerals, and I would usually end up doing a pretty good job, so much so that, very often, no one would believe me when I said that I did not enjoy public speaking, that it was not my natural milieu. 

Choosing Fear, Choosing Courage

And so, what ended up happening in many areas of my life, is that this habit of mine – this habit of doing what scared me despite the fear – was one of the best habits I could have possibly formed, unconscious as it was. For you see, courage is not the absence of fear. It is not even the ability to overcome fear. Oh, no, it goes deeper than that. To be courageous, one NEEDS to be afraid.

In other words, it takes no courage to do something that you are not afraid off. If you are not afraid of doing something, then you’re not being courageous. You’re just doing what you’ve always done. It’s normal and it requires no inner reserves of strength. Just as there can be no cowardice without fear. If you are not afraid of doing something, how can you be called a coward for not doing it? So courage and fear are two sides of the same coin. Just as how cowardice and fear are two sides of the same coin too.

And the thing to remember is, if we make a habit of acting courageously, over time our fear diminishes. It truly does. Because the more you do something, the more familiar the action becomes. And the more familiar an action becomes, the less scary it seems and the less scary it seems, the less effort it takes to act courageously because the act itself becomes normalised. 

And when you reach that point – that point where you no longer fear the action, well then you know that you have grown. You have developed and honed a skill you did not initially have and you are now the better for it.

So what are you afraid off?

So what are you afraid off? Public speaking? Socialising? Saying no? Setting boundaries? What is it that you fear? Whatever it is, remember: you only fear it because you haven’t practiced it. The first step then is to get comfortable with discomfort and do those things that scare you. Do those things over and over again, until it becomes so familiar you no longer fear it, but rather, welcome it. 

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