Warriors. Braveheart. Knights. Merida from the animated Disney movie, with flaming red hair and fierce eyes. There are certain images that come to mind when we think of the word “brave.” These are the cultural references we’ve come to believe represent heroism, bravery.
According to Merriam-Webster, bravery is, “Mental or moral strength to face danger, fear, or difficult.” Certainly, this seems to align with image of riding into battle on horseback, arrows whizzing by, heavy armor clanking.
But there are other kinds of bravery, too, subtler kinds that are just as fierce; bravery that shows itself in the most unlikely places, at the most unlikely times. This is the bravery of living into the fullest expression of your own life.
The New Definition of Bravery
I was in the car with my soon-to-be ex-boyfriend. Our year and a half together was erratic, dotted with highs and lows. My memories of the highs – so much fun! So much laughter! – made it harder to say the words I knew we both needed me to say. I swallowed, picking at the hem of my shirt. It was now or never.
“Listen, I have something to tell you. It’s not easy… but… I think we’re better as friends. I… I think we should break up.”
The pain was clear on both our faces. He took a moment to let the words hang, trembling in the air between us. Finally, glancing away from the road to meet my gaze, he sighed. “Wow, Laura. You’re really brave.”
It was the last thing I’d expected from the person whose heart I’d just broken. Now, five years later, that moment still stands out as one of my bravest. It was a time when I was honest with myself, speaking from my heart, even though it was one of the hardest things I’d done.
If I were to define bravery, I’d say it’s the act of listening deeply to oneself and honoring our own inner wisdom and intuition. It’s being able to say NO just as much as it is saying YES to certain aspects of life.
Bravery is speaking our truth, even if others disagree. It’s standing up for those who are unable to defend themselves because we know it’s right. If we’re pressured to do something we think we “should” do, by others or ourselves, bravery is choosing to say “no.”
True bravery is even more frightening than jumping out of an airplane. It’s standing up for our own authenticity, above all else. And if we’re to be brave, there are certain things we’re going to have to learn to embrace… and let go of.
It’s always there
“Listen with your heart, you will understand.” Grandmother Willow from Pocahontas isn’t just a sassy, snappy old tree. She has her own wisdom as she tries to guide her granddaughter towards the path of the heart.
You know that small voice of reason? The one that shyly pipes up when you’re faced with a hard decision? How often do we push that voice away, telling it to “suck it up” or “just do it already; everyone else is.” True bravery isn’t pushing that voice away. It’s listening to it and following the wisdom it shares.
For example, I admire people who listen to their own bodies. The ones who do their stretches in the morning because it gets them energized for the day; the ones who’ve given up coffee because they don’t like the midafternoon crash; the ones who aren’t afraid to go to bed early so they can feel refreshed the next day.
It takes a certain level of awareness, self-love, even respect to bravely listen to our own inner wisdom and intuition, especially if the voices around us are saying something different.
Some Stay, Some Go
Let’s be honest: sometimes we don’t act bravely because we fear judgment.
What will others think if I break up with my boyfriend when I know they really like him?
I know everyone is going to college, but it doesn’t feel right for me – will everyone think I’m a failure?
The reality is, some relationships might not survive our bravery. We all know which relationships: the ones that leave us exhausted after we’ve bent over backwards trying to become someone else for their sake. The ones that make us feel like we’re stuffing our square peg into a round hole. Or the ones where the only thing we’ve bonded over is complaining and negativity.
Not to sound harsh, but those relationships will only get in the way of your journey towards a more authentic you. You might not be able to avoid certain relationships – perhaps this person is in your immediate family, or at work – but ask yourself how you can limit your interactions with these individuals.
Find the people who truly support your growth. Let them embrace you. You might even tell them how they might best support you. Bravery isn’t like turning on a light switch. It takes practice, and it’s important to have community beside you, cheering you on.
Expect the Unexpected
Bravery scares us because we don’t know what will happen. Will people stand by us? Will we regret our choices? Can we stand up and say, “This is who I am,” no matter what criticism we receive?
Uncertainty is a part of life. We can’t know how things will go, how people will react, even how we’ll feel from one day to the next. Instead of avoiding unpredictability, creating a life with as much control as possible, what would it look like if we leaned into the unknown?
Not only is that an act of bravery in and of itself, it’s a key part of being brave. To some extent, we need to let go of our expectations, trusting that we have the capacities to make it through any scenario, so long as we fight for who we are and what’s right.
You know that experience of getting worked up before a conversation even happens? You think of the worst possible outcome, knowing it will go horribly. In the end, it’s never as bad as you think, is it?
It’s useful to remember that we tend to think things will be far worse than they actually will be. Embracing uncertainty is not only easier than we think, but nothing can be thrown our way that won’t make us stronger. If we willingly step into the unknown, we can take greater risks, seek greater adventures, and choose to love more deeply, others and ourselves. These are the greatest gifts bravery can offer.
Bravery might not always be the easiest choice but once we begin, there really is no other option. Once we start to see who we are inside, who our heart calls us to be, we can’t do anything but let that light shine to the outside, no matter what adversity we might encounter. Moreover, we’ll be the example for everyone else whose heart is quietly calling to them: I have something to share with you.