Here’s how my daughter reminds me to choose courage.

Published by Peter on

Last week, I was talking to a new client who has been suffering a crisis of confidence for the last year. As they told me about their past, I was struck by how often this person had chosen courage in their life—chasing an opportunity, stepping into the unknown, trying something completely new. Nothing that would blow your mind, but often embracing vulnerability and risk in pursuit of joy, or knowledge, or growth.

Recently, though, my client had been feeling overcome by doubt and fear. They felt lost. Stuck.

I have had that feeling myself. Perhaps you have, too.

Courage reveals itself one moment at a time

If you asked 20 people to describe me in five words, zero of those words would be “courageous.”

We tend to think of courage in grand, cinematic terms—running alone into battle against the armies of evil, sword held high. Few of us will ever have to face that kind of challenge, but I think we all possess as much courage as it takes to live our lives fully.

“If you are lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it.”

John Irving – see more quotes on “courage” at Reader’s Digest.

The trick is to tap into that courage at the right times, for the right reasons.

We all face choices every single day. Most are mundane, but sometimes truly life-altering and life-defining choices present themselves, and we can favor courage or favor fear in those moments. Leave a job to start your own business? Move across the country for someone you’ve been dating online? Self-publish your memoir where anyone can read it? Come out to your parents as transgender?

Many of our choices are small, though, and when the stakes are lower it’s easier to give in to fear.

Physical discomfort or public embarrassment

I have always been terrified of embarrassing myself in public. It’s one of my greatest fears. This fact is likely to surprise some of my friends who have only known me as a very outgoing and social person.

When I was in my early 20s, I had a day to myself in Frankfurt on my first-ever business trip abroad. I walked all around the city the whole day. I bought souvenirs and postcards. But I never ate one single thing all day long.

Why? It was easier to suffer the mild physical discomfort of hunger than it was to go into a restaurant or shop and face the possibility I might embarrass myself by not knowing the language and not knowing the local customs. It was an irrational fear, but the path of fear was easier for me that day.

It sounds so silly today. I knew it was silly at the time. And that feeling of shame has stuck with me even to today. I don’t like that I chose fear and missed out on a new experience.

Remembering to choose courage

So today I’m completely courageous all the time, right? I’m posting this story, so I must be entirely fearless. Right?

Ha! Not hardly. I’m just as terrified of public embarrassment today as I have always been. But now I understand that the consequences aren’t as dire or permanent as my fear tells me they will be. I still choose fear over courage sometimes. But I’m getting better at being intentional about when and how to allow myself that comfort.

I’ve also discovered that I like myself more when I choose courage. Yeah, it can be scary, but that’s kind of the point.

“Failure is unimportant. It takes courage to make a fool of yourself.”

Charlie Chaplin – see more quotes on “courage” at Reader’s Digest.

To help me remember this, I look at the tattoo I had inked onto my forearm in 2018. It was designed by my trans daughter. One day she posted a drawing to Facebook with the caption “my next tattoo?” and my first thought was, “Mine, too!”

tattoo of writing quill with rattlesnake wrapped around it with a blue-pink-white-pink-blue diamond pattern
Designed by Emma Dudley

Emma, being an EMT, had drawn the medical symbol of a staff with a snake wrapped around it. But she’d changed the snake to a rattlesnake. I am not a medical professional in any way, but I am a writer, so I asked her to draw me a version with a writing quill where the staff was.

The snake has a white-pink-blue-pink-white pattern for the transgender flag.

Why does this remind me to choose courage? We both got our tattoos during a particularly vulnerable time in my life. I was suffering my own crisis of confidence and had just left a bad job situation, unsure what might be next. Getting a tattoo on my forearm felt like a risk. But it was important to me because Emma had designed it, and the imagery and symbolism felt authentically me.

When I look at it today, it reminds me to be fierce in my approach to life. (Fierce, by the way, would also not be one of the 100 words people would use to describe me.) The rattlesnake is a powerful symbol. There’s no bullshit about a rattlesnake. You know what you’re going to get with a rattlesnake. A rattlesnake is all about truth.

How do you choose courage?

Climbing out of a crisis of confidence is no small, easy, or quick task. It’s going to take some time for my client, just as it took some time for me. But they’ll get there. I’m quite sure of it.

Now: how do you remind yourself to choose courage? Or do you give in to fear more often than you’d like?

If you think you could use some help in this area, drop me a line and we’ll talk.


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