I’ve never thought of myself as a particularly courageous person. And, fortunately my bravery has never been tested under any extreme circumstances—war, fire, or in some situation that required heroism. And for that, I’m grateful. I’m fundamentally a cautious person. Of course, like most adolescents, I did some risky things—but they didn’t involve courage, just an undeveloped teenage brain!
While most of us will never have the experience of plucking a child out of a burning building, leading a charge on a battlefield, or rescuing a drowning adult, we are regularly faced with challenges that test our willingness to take risks of a more mundane, everyday nature.
Just trying something new or different can cause anxiety—taking a class, going somewhere new, or doing something that you have never done before. When I took my first yoga class I was nervous. What if I couldn’t do the poses? What if I was the only male in the class? (I was). What if everyone was younger? (They were). All of these concerns coursed through my mind before I showed up for the class. And like many other adults doing something new, I considered not showing up. I was afraid, mostly of making a fool out of myself.
But I did go. I did feel awkward and out of place, but at the end, I was very pleased with what I could do! I certainly couldn’t do a headstand, but I could do a mean downward dog! And, I was less anxious the next time I showed up.
I was also really nervous about taking a dance class with my wife. I was sure my two left feet would find their way on to someone else’s toes. After putting it off, I finally did go. I was nervous, but the whole experience turned out to be lots of fun.
Courage, in daily life, is all about pushing ourselves to go outside of our comfort zone.
Joe rarely shared his real feelings with friends, but now wants to be more open. It’s scary for him to tell others that he’s struggling. Mary, 80, is lonely since her husband passed away. She wants to meet new people but is anxious about joining a book club.
Both Joe and Mary think of themselves as being fearful. They wish they had more courage. But adults with nerve also have fear. However, they don’t let their fear stop them from doing what they must. They don’t let their anxiety stop them from doing what they want to do. This is the real definition of courage--not the absence of anxiety!
In order to grow and develop as a person, we need to push up against our comfort zone and challenge ourselves to do something different. We have to push through that zone and experience some discomfort. Maybe we won’t enjoy the new class. Maybe we will feel awkward like I did in the Yoga class. Maybe we will fall flat on our face.
New experiences expand our horizons, build new skills, and strengthen weak muscles. They provide us with new opportunities that can bring us satisfaction, meaning, and excitement.
Facing our fears and taking risks are hard. But when we do, our lives are enriched.