It’s not uncommon for people to ask during an interview just “how” this whole courage thing started.
Typically, I’ll explain the story from the point of 2009–when I took Mondo Beyondo and made my list and realized that everything that I was putting on my list was a compromise. I was trying to both “dream big” and “be realistic” at the same time. I quickly amended that, acknowledged that my big dream was to work for myself, and…well, got to it.
But of course, this all stretches back much, much farther, back to childhood.
If I really think about it, I have to credit my mother for at least 75% of the kahunas that I would later swing around, which means I would also need to credit the generations of women before her who were feminists, who wrote their books that ended up in the small-town library my mother grew up in (Elsberry, MO, population 200), where she would be so influenced by them that she would carve out a different life for herself.
My mother first met my father in high school. She and her brother had just been caught with pot by their parents, who had called a juvenile officer–and that would be my father, who is much older than my mother.
The story goes that when my father held up the bag of pot, he asked my mother, “Is this yours?”
My mother replied, flippant: “Not anymore.”
Years later, they met up again when my mother was a (legal and of-age) waitress at a diner. They met, they were inexplicably attracted to one another as conservative Catholic Republicans and ardent feminist atheist liberals sometimes are (huh?), and then I decided to make my entrance. They decided to get married.
After my parents divorced (that’s not a shocker, is it?), she bought a dilapidated 100-year-old Victorian in the same drug-ridden neighborhood that she had lived in with my father. Then she went about securing loans to rehab it, began rehabbing it, and got to work on the college degree she’d never gotten around to when she became pregnant with me at age 18.
Then she went about clearing the neighborhood of drug dealers, which means that I watched, time and time again, as my mother called the police when she saw someone going into the drug house around the corner. Her philosophy? If the police weren’t going to stake out the drug houses in our neighborhood to get rid of them after she’d reported them once, she’d badger them with calls until they did.
It worked, noticeably. Police cars began driving up and down the streets of our neighborhood on the regular. We heard fewer gunshots.
* * *
(Can I really quickly tell you this one? So–we’re coming home and just as we’re turning on to our street, a guy’s in his truck, um, having just solicited a prostitute. My mother swings the car around to face the truck, turns on her high beams, gets out of the car, walks over to the truck, and starts banging on the guy’s window and yelling at him to get out of the neighborhood! Can you imagine? I think I was nine, and that cemented in my mind the picture of my mom as being the bravest woman I knew.)
* * *
My mother was the one who taught me that if you wanted something in life, you could research how to get it at the library, or observe how others were getting it, and then? Well…she got to it.
I saw it modeled for me, over and over and over again, that being afraid was no reason not to do something in life. Also–there was no such thing as not having the answer. There was a book somewhere, or a person somewhere, who would have the answer.
If you wanted to do something, you just up and did it if you wanted it badly enough.
So, There I Am
I was a mouthy kid who grew to be a mouthy teenager.
In high school, I went to a public performing arts school where everyone had a major. Mine was music. True to over-achiever form, I played not just the piano, but also the flute, violin, cello, and on occasion–the viola.
If someone said I couldn’t do all of that because I was spreading myself too thin, my standard response was, “Watch me.” Then I’d go to state competitions with a part in the symphonic band and another in the chamber orchestra and another in a quartet or trio (one year? both) plus a solo on the flute. This was in addition to maintaining a good GPA and all of that jazz. Oh yeah, and I worked part-time so that I could pay for gas and insurance for my car.
Amazed? Don’t get too excited.
I was terribly, horribly lonely.
High school was the period of my most functional, yet most painful, clinical depression. I cried myself to sleep, nightly, for the first two years. Sometimes I hit or slapped myself, cut myself. For about a year, I was bulimic. I was convinced that I was hideously ugly, and unwanted.
I was surrounded by people and had friends, but inside I felt like a complete outsider, and I didn’t understand why. I look back now and realize that this is the cross that the sensitive and inquisitive always bear–all of us who are this way walk through high school wrestling with questions and thoughts and analysis and wonderings about humanity that few of our peers are wrestling with at that age.
While everyone else was having the kind of fun that can only be had when you aren’t contemplating Big Life Questions, I was wondering why I couldn’t quit analyzing so damned much. Drinking and drugs never appealed to me; to this day I’ve never taken drugs, and I drink so infrequently that a single glass of wine is enough to get me rollickingly drunk.
There was also the flip-side of my mother’s passion and energy, and that was–anger. I look back now and see all the courage that it has taken for my mother to process her life and childhood, but when I was younger, I was furious with her for being so angry, furious with her for teaching me anger.
Anger alienated, isolated, shamed, and humiliated. Anger was out of control and simultaneously a survival mechanism. I was walking through life with pain turned inward (depression) and pain turned outward (anger) and it was costing me the one thing I wanted most: connection.
When you walk with a subtle undercurrent of either, people can tell–and they keep their distance.
I coped with that by continuing to be ever the over-achiever well into my undergraduate and graduate years, which is to say, well into my early twenties. People might not have liked the edge that I came with, but they could at least appreciate me for “doing stuff,” or having ideas, and that was enough to keep me around–and I was afraid of being lonely again, so I was happy to over-compensate.
My undergraduate and graduate years were more of the same, though at least by this point I was no longer cutting, hitting, or bulimic. (How exactly did I stop? I don’t have an answer for this, really. I do know that stopping bulimia was a choice–one day, after someone made an unkind remark, I was considering throwing up and a very clear, strong voice within me said, “That isn’t going to get you where you want to go.” And like that, I stopped, because I knew the truth of that voice and trusted it, completely).
By my mid-twenties, I had figured out how to exist with a sort of low-grade, background depression. I was happy sometimes, happier a few times, and mostly walking through life laced with a bit of melancholy. A therapist once called it “anhedonia.” I had left behind the music world after deciding not to go to the music school to which I’d been accepted, and now my life was reading and writing.
And then, one summer, someone told me about a book. That’s when things began to shift.
So here’s an important question, and it requires courage to look at it honestly and answer it: What are you doing with your life?
If you’re interested in how to deeply examine the question of what you’re doing with your life, what your life is really about, then keep reading.
I don’t think we have any time to lose. Daily, people are waking up, afraid–and this is the kicker–without even acknowledging their fear.
Our society has become one in which there’s not just fear, there’s a layer OVER the fear:
If there’s an extra layer of double-speak and illusion over the fear, then this means that speaking in evolutionary terms, we’ve taken a step back.
Instead of meeting challenges head-on, as a global society we are becoming more and more practiced by the minute at justifying how surely, we were not meant to be the ones to act with integrity (Since, your Honor, the defendant started it!) or to step up and be a force for good (After all, surely I couldn’t make a difference, since I’m just one person).
We need to stop doing that, and I hope you agree.
Courage is my cause, not because I want everyone to bungee jump or start non-profits (all well and good, but “role-playing” courageousness by doing all the things you’ve heard other people do is inauthentic), but rather because I want people to practice it in their daily lives.
We need to practice “ordinary” courage, the daily acts of courage that require us to speak with respect, act with integrity, pursue our dreams, truly connect with one another, and cultivate the kind of emotional and psychological inner affluence that enables us to give back to others without feeling drained.
Courage is an Evolutionary Imperative
We need it to grow as a society. We need millions of people who are willing to practice courage–and it is a practice, not something you either have or don’t have.
We need a society willing to look at the hard questions, and the hard questions start with ourselves.
If you’re interested in creating a better world for yourself and your children, start with creating connection between yourself and the person in your life you have the most conflict with. That, right there, is where “peace on earth” begins.
If you’re interested in living in a world where people are joyful, prosperous, and connected, then it needs to start with asking yourself where there are opportunities to feel joyful amid ruin, to examine the connections between emotional and spiritual and financial prosperity, and to connect to who you are by speaking your truth.
So, What Are You Doing With Your Life?
I started this piece by asking “What are you doing with your life?”
It takes courage to answer this question because it’s vulnerable, and there are so many opportunities for the inner critic to step in and tell you that you’re doing it all wrong.
Many people will stop right there–as soon as they hear the critic, they’ll give up that line of thinking and move along to something else, some other distraction. Some people won’t even get so far as to acknowledge the existence of a critic, automatically feeling that such a concept is cheesy, self-help bullshit (interestingly, of course, adopting this attitude basically ensures that the critic will live on, indefinitely).
In service to practicing courage–I’m asking you to spend some time deeply contemplating the question of what you’re doing with your life.
When you start to answer these questions, you begin shaping a picture of where in your life courage is called for–
–the courage to evolve your soul, your life, which in turn evolves the lives of the people around you and thus, the world.
And again, courage is not something you “have,” it’s something you choose to practice.
You never know when, just by being yourself, you’ll be someone else’s gift.
One person, one idea, one revolution can spur a million others.
So consider this the call, sounded–to have the courage to take a gentle yet honest look at your life, and to be unflinchingly honest about how much joy and aliveness you experience.
Then–take action. Take courageous action to ferret out every little dream compromised, every justification that creates mediocrity, every little white lie that you tell yourself.
Take every courageous step necessary to truly thrive, not just tread water in your day-to-day. Live on your own terms, without fear ruling your choices.
Live in such a way that when you ask yourself what it is that you’re really doing with your life, and you answer that question, you can look yourself square in the eye, because that’s the level of integrity that you rise to.
Just who do I think I am, anyway, to be writing all of these direct blog posts, these confrontational questions?
Well, first of all, I’m someone who loves asking myself, “Just who the hell do you think you are?”
Beyond that, I am you.
I am your life, with your problems, your struggles, your mistakes, your challenges, your walls of resistance and fear.
I am also your achievements, your victories, your successes, your joy, your unfolding, your surrender, your presence.
There is nothing that I am that is not you, and there is nothing that you are, that is not me.
And believe it or not, I am saying this on a level of cells and hemoglobin and thought form and all of it–strictly real, utterly true, the air you breathe is the air that I breathe, and we share the planet, so that’s enough for me to adopt the perspective that by sharing the earth, we are one.
Also, in service to transparency, I routinely and readily confess that I have my stuck places, and the only difference I ever notice between my stuck places and yours is the decision to practice courage.
But I would like to clarify: I adhere to a guru-free philosophy.
Take what you like, leave the rest.
Who the hell am I?
I am the girl who writes herself love letters through blog posts.
My calls to action are pixelated, but I hope they become etched on your soul.
My words are my own reminders of what I want to live.
My hope is that it’s all received as a gift, because that’s how I choose to receive you.
Who the hell am I?
I am you.
I love you, adore you, and think you are brilliant and utterly worthy and wholeheartedly enough.