Once upon a time, there was a man who was strong. A heart attack and a quadruple bypass later, he found just how hard he had to work to recover, but he never complained.
He survived an exploded aorta that nobody thought he was coming back from. Once he was finally out of ICU and in the ward, recovering slowly, he cried when he saw his grandchildren walk towards his bed. Like he never thought he’d see them again.
Then, not so long ago, he slipped on a step, landed straight on his spine and completely shattered a vertebrae or two. He was in a hospital room for 6 weeks with fragments of bone a millimetre from pushing into his spinal cord, unable to get out of bed or even sit up, while he awaited news of possible surgery. None came, and the bone fragments fused together in a clump that make it difficult and painful for him to get around to this day.
Laying there in the hospital bed, he got depressed. He started talking about how he’d never leave, and when he finally did get home, he sank further as he lived with daily pain and found how limited his movement was. He was brave enough to get some help, and today, though he’s still hobbling around he’s laughing again with his family.
And now, with the looming prospect of a blood condition that may or may not get worse, he continues to be brave.
That man is my Dad. He’s probably the bravest man I know. (He has to be, he’s been married to my Mum for 50 years. Thank you, try the veal).
Bravery vs Fantasy
We tend to think of bravery as something the knight has as he’s fighting the dragon to save the kingdom. Or what the soldier has pumping through his veins as he dives on the grenade to save his fellow soldiers.
But bravery isn’t always, and rarely is, so dramatic.
Bravery is found in the every day. In the minutiae. In the act of breathing.
Don’t for one second think that your friend who just went skydiving lives more bravely than another friend who’s more of a homebody. That “homebody” might be experimenting with art or writing, opening themselves up to those uncertain and often intensely personal pursuits. They might be dealing with a deep issue that threatens to overcome them, doing the best they can to find their way through. Or they may throw themselves into their relationship wholeheartedly, not wanting to hide behind walls or pretend.
Bravery is hard, if not impossible, to measure from the outside, because it comes from the inside.
Bravery is making a choice based on what truly matters to you, not what doesn’t.
It’s spotting all the compelling reasons not to try, and saying “No, you don’t get to call the shots today.”
It’s not the absence of fear or doubt, but it’s the ability to respond from a place of connection.
My Dad pushed through all of that for one reason: his family.
Hands-down, it’s the most beautiful fucking thing there is.
How to know if you’re brave
Don’t know about you, but I’d love to think that I’m brave. That I’d stand up and do the right thing. That if I believed in something enough and the world was telling me I was wrong and that I should move, that I’d plant my feet and say, “No, you move.”
Bravery in the big and small things is what helps us to carve our path through life, but how do you know if you have it? How do you know for sure if you have what it takes?
I think there’s a simple test.
Picture that someone has taken away the thing that matters most to you in the world. Your kids. Your partner. Your creativity. Your compassion. Whatever it is, they’ve reached into your life and taken it. No explanation.
So you have a choice. Do you let them walk away, or, do you exert effort in the interests of what matters most you?
It’s that easy.
And if you’re willing to exert effort in the interests of what matters to you when it’s crunch time, you’re certainly brave enough to do the same when the stakes might be lower.
You may even get stirred into action and rush to someone else’s side to help and support, just because it matters to you, or because it matters to them.
How to unlock bravery
This brave thing seems slippery, doesn’t it? Sometimes you can feel it in your veins, letting you draw from it and do the right thing. Other times, when you feel small and afraid, you wonder if it was every really there at all.
So, how do you access or use personal bravery?
I think there are 2 parts to it.
- Explore what matters
A brave act is one that’s done in service to something that matters, and figuring out what matters demands exploration without expectation.
- Practice what matters
Practice is deliberately engaging with something for no other reason that it matters to you. It’s a deliberate, sometimes radical, act of love.
Bravery doesn’t require strength, it requires love.
If you can love, you’re brave.
The only thing that remains is the direction of that bravery; the places you want to invest it or the ways you want to exhibit it.
Tell me in the comments where you want to invest or exhibit bravery, and let’s see what we can start here.