Scare yourself

 Photo: Mickey O'Neil

Photo: Mickey O'Neil

I have been thinking about bravery a lot lately. I’ve seen it described thus:

“Not shrinking from a threat, challenge, difficulty or pain; speaking up for what is right even if there is opposition, external or internal.”

When I look back over the past year, and the big challenges I worked through, I notice that there’s an ebb and flow to my own bravery. 

I have a strong sense that the experience I went through emotionally applies to most of us. I notice similar experiences in my coaching clients. 

To simplify it, I see these 3 separate phases: 

Phase 1: At the beginning of a challenge, before I get into it, I am unfailingly optimistic. This is especially so if the goal is something that I strongly believe in and know will make my life or the life of others better in the long run. It is one absolutely worth pursuing and so any challenge I face will not seem like a good enough reason to shrink back from taking steps to move forward.

Phase 2: As I work through the challenge, especially if it has a long timeline, I will, at times, doubt my ability to reach the outcome I desire. This happens when I face new, unexpected challenges along the way. Or when the effort required to maintain my belief in myself feels threatened or weakened. In time, I lift myself out of the doubts as I come across helpers who get me through. Or I regain my own inner strength: I boost myself up by believing that no matter the outcome, I will survive. 

Phase 3: After the challenge is over and I am on the other side of success, I feel a sense of accomplishment, pride, relief and lightness. This helps to maintain the momentum of taking on new challenges.

There are some questions you can ask yourself as you face these phases.

How can you look at a big challenge as an opportunity rather than a setback?

When I was told at work that my performance would be evaluated to determine whether or not I would retain employment, I obviously wasn't happy about it. But I believed in my ability to succeed in that job. I had little doubt that I could prove myself. In fact, I took the message as a positive thing: I saw it as a sign that I could do better, and I considered it an opportunity rather than a setback to grow and become a stronger and better person. I also realized that if I didn’t come through this challenge with my job intact, it was still ok. Sometimes these things happen to us as a way to wake us up. Maybe this was a sign that my tenure at this organization was ending and it was more than time to move on to something bigger and better. 

Can you take action so that your worst case scenario is less likely to occur? Can you mitigate the risks?

In my case, I could’ve embraced the fear of what would happen: lose my job (and income) and lose health insurance for the family, and especially for my husband who so desperately needs it to stay alive. 

I did worry, and so I took the measures I needed to, to ensure I didn’t put our survival at risk. Rather than quit the job, I stuck it out. I did what I needed to in order to remain financially stable. 

What have you learned from the experience? What can you take with you into the next challenge? What could you do differently?

I learned from my experience that finding my equilibrium and belief in myself is a struggle that comes up every single day. I didn’t wake up each day ready to do battle. There were absolutely days when I wanted to give up. But I fought through it.

What made the strain easier to bear was this thought:

“All I can be is myself. If they don’t think that’s good enough, then that’s not my problem. It’s their’s.”

I learned that I am stronger than I give myself credit for. Accepting criticism, a close review of my daily activities and staying optimistic in the face of what was surely an indicator that my time at this organization had come to an end; these require inner emotional strength. 

In the end, I was told that I accepted the situation with an amazing amount of grace. I left the organization with respect and admiration from both the management and my co-workers. Most importantly, I left feeling proud of myself. The only loss I felt was that I would miss my co-workers. 

Another insight was that although I could’ve done my best to get a job with another company, I found I had developed principles. It was very important to me that I accept the risk of unemployment rather than fall back into safety, the same safety that had kept me in that organization long past my due date. I was ready to move on profoundly, as much as it was a risk. I felt it was riskier to live a life of safety, than it was to live the life I chose for myself. 

That’s the biggest lesson I learned about bravery: when you do one big brave thing, you realize you can take on even scarier things. Courage builds courage. 

Today I run a coaching practice and I am finding my way through the challenges of self-employment.

What scary thing are you facing?