WANTING A GUARANTEE: On courage and choosing an unknown path
"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.'" Eleanor Roosevelt
"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." Nelson Mandela
This is a repetitive theme in both my office and my life. Courage. How fear is the single prerequisite for being brave. If I do something without fear, I am not being brave, I am just doing something. Walking into the front door of my office building requires zero courage. I do it almost daily. Walking into the front door of my building if it is ablaze--perhaps to rescue someone or something--requires great courage. Having courage means that what I am about to attempt is, on some level, frightening. My clients and I often talk about our admiration of the people we have known to be brave. Most of us want to be one. We want the courage to be ourselves, to tell the truth, to be vulnerable, to venture out, to ACT on our own inner leanings, to do the next thing. It is amazing how terrifying these things can be.
And one of the things that often holds us back as we face these unknowns is wanting some sort of guarantee: "If I choose ______, then everything will be okay." If I choose this partner... If I choose this career... If I walk down this path... THEN life will be good and right and full.
I wrestled with this powerfully during the years that I was trying to figure out my own life. The crux of the matter was my children. I wanted to know that the path I chose meant that they were going to be okay. Did I choose the one that left their home life in tact but meant almost certainly a life of chronic depression for me? Or did I choose a different path in the hopes of getting better, finding a more satisfying life, but by so doing break my children's lives into pieces? Both choices seemed unthinkable. I loathed them. I desperately wanted someone to tell me which way would guarantee that my four beautiful children would grow into strong adults who were confident of themselves and of the fact that they were deeply loved. I spent a very, very, very long time trying to understand how to make such a decision.
And then, in all the struggling, something began to grow in me. I began to think about the idea that EVERY path is unknown. We generally think, upon awakening most mornings, that we know what the day holds. Coffee. Reading. Writing. Commute. Workday. Whatever "normal" is in anyone's world. We all sort of count on smooth sailing and are surprised when our very carefully plotted, not at all risky course leads us into rough (even unnavigable) waters. Life doesn't deal in guarantees. It deals only in uncertainty. There are paths that seem more familiar, possibly more predictable, than others...but even that is something of an illusion and easily interrupted.
"...making a decision [is] only the beginning of things. When someone makes a decision, he is really diving into a strong current that will carry him to places he had never dreamed of when he first made the decision." Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
And that seems to be the bottom line. Courage is required on both sides of every decision. Courage to hold onto ourselves and not surrender to the path of least resistance. Courage to be aware of what is happening in us and around us and to keep seeking our own truth. Courage to keep meeting life as it comes. And courage to acknowledge that we don't get guarantees. We just get this life adventure where we get to keep choosing and choosing.
May we do that choosing with compassion and a great deal of love.