Monday, August 12, 2013

Ch 3.4 How to Be Brave

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Ch 3.4 How to Be Brave

Writing is an emotionally risky thing to do.

You discover things about your characters. You discover things about yourself.

(You fear, perhaps, those things should remain undiscovered. This is never true.)

When I posted an article on FB by Brene Brown about Why Vulnerability is Courage, the talented and fabulous Angela Ackerman pointed me toward another of Brown's TED videos about Shame. It was held up in a forum as a way to write complex characters, but I think it speaks not only to our characters, but to ourselves (as these things often do). 

In short:
People need connection - it's the most important thing in our lives. Shame is the fear of losing that connection over something we've done or something we are. Being vulnerable means taking action that allows people to see the things we fear will be shameful.

Here's the key: Being vulnerable is a measure of courage.

“Vulnerability is courage in you and weakness in me.”

It is precisely when we are feeling vulnerable that we are being courageous.

Part of me knew this intuitively from very early on; part of me is just now getting it in full.

A lot of people tell me I'm brave. This isn't something that's happened since I've started writing or self-publishing. This has been going on my entire life, and on a fundamental level, it perplexes me. My own mother was telling me this ever since I was 18 months old, climbing out of the crib and heading for the 6 foot chain-link fence that separated our apartment complex from the freeway.

My mom: You had no fear! Fearless, I tell you! You would have climbed right out onto that freeway if we hadn't stopped you!

Me: You nearly let me crawl out into traffic?? Well... that explains a lot.

Growing up, I dreamed big (wanted to be an astronaut) and went after things that seemed to make other people cringe. It wasn't that I was tremendously brave, I just never let my fears and anxieties stop me from the things I wanted to do. It perplexed me that not everyone did this, and I figured that maybe other people didn't experience fear in the same way. As I grew up, I explained my apparent bravery as "not letting fear stop you," but I knew that was an incomplete understanding of it. Because there were times that the fear stopped me. However, most times not, and I began to see the ability to be afraid and keep going as a strength.  

I remember very clearly telling my husband (before he was my husband) that, "Being able to be emotionally vulnerable is strength." What I meant was that "not letting the fear stop you" was a strength, not a sign of severe mental illness masquerading as reckless abandon in decision-making (which was how he described many of my actions).

He clearly thought I was nuts, but he married me anyway. (A topic for deeper analysis, to be sure.)

An aha moment for me came when I read Brown's article about vulnerability being courage: I realized that all along, all that fear that I had - about not being a good enough writer, about failing as an author, about writing things that were too dark, or too sexy, or too emotionally raw - all of it was me feeling vulnerable while doing something brave

I've known for some time that being brave isn't about being fearless. The fear is always there. But the aha came in realizing that the fear wasn't weakness, something you overcame by not letting it stop you, but that...

Fear is part of courage itself.

Fear is the sign that you're letting yourself be vulnerable.

You're taking the chance of exposing your weaknesses to the world. Brown found in her research that it was precisely these people - the ones who risked being vulnerable to the world - who were the most connected and had the strongest sense of worthiness and belonging in their lives.

"The courage to be imperfect. To tell the story of who you are with your whole heart." - Brené Brown

Thank you, Brene Brown, for being brave enough to point that out.


  1. I am going to have to go think about this for a while. All my life I've been really brave about trying new things Most of the time trying new stuff has been very rewarding, after I get over the shame of falling on my face a few times at first.

    But now I'm trying to do something old. Something I've done for a long time without achieving what I wanted to achieve. To keep doing it instead of moving on to something new is taking a kind of courage I'm not used to exercising. It's really hard to say, okay, I'm still not good at this and I don't have the excuse that I've just started learning to do it.

    1. I think the bravery/fear you're feeling here is the fear of admitting to yourself (and perhaps other people) that you've failed to achieve a long-time goal.

      And that's tough stuff.

      (I have no idea if you've actually failed or not - but if you're grappling with it, then you believe you have, or at least possibly have.)

      As I've said before, failure is what happens when you're trying. Success is what happens when you try again.

      And that is true while you're in-process. But it's reasonable to stop and re-evaluate along the way.

      I've had failures in my life (er, plenty, actually). Things I've tried, put tons of effort into, and not achieved what I set out to achieve. I'm not talking about knitting a sweater here: I'm talking about life goals and career aspirations. Eventually I had to take a hard look at what I was doing and decide: 1) did I still want that thing I set out to achieve? Had my goals changed along the way? 2) Was it possible, I just needed to keep on trying? or 3) Was my energy and time better spent elsewhere - i.e. could I achieve the things I wanted in life (fulfilling work, a loving family) in another way that was more obtainable?

    2. It takes bravery to ask those questions and answer them honestly. But the outcome will either affirm the path you're on or help you find a new one - both of which are forward movement.

      And brave acts. So bravo to you for that!


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