What we are used to, when it comes to courage, is pushing: pushing to get to the “next level.” Pushing to create your “big thing.” Pushing to grow, to achieve, to be a better version of yourself than the version that you were, last year. Innovate, innovate, innovate—and never be happy with the “status quo.” To simply tread water, to stay in your comfort zone and be where you are without trying to get to a better place, is for suckers (or so they say).
And…reality requires more nuance.
Yes, there are times where we need to push and fight for every step of our growth; growth is uncomfortable and without the push, we’ll live stagnant lives. These are the times when we need confronting with kindness, the person or internal advocate who will say, “Don’t sell yourself short; this is hard but you need to forge ahead, anyway. DO NOT GIVE UP.”
Other times, we need to practice the courage to allow ourselves to simply tread water. Sometimes, it’s fear that’s driving us to hustle more, hustle harder. It becomes a fear-based choice to push-push-push. All that pushing leads to being at war with yourself.
So how do you know the difference between when you need to push and when you need to simply…be?
Primarily, you’ll learn through time and discernment, through accessing the body to observe what you feel, and through attention to the repeated patterns. You start noticing that, say, every time your career really starts getting hot, you get overwhelmed and feel the need to take a long break. Or every time things finally relax in your relationship, you feel a strong urge to pick a fight. Or it might hit you that when you want to leave a situation, you have a tendency to make the circumstances and everyone in them “wrong,” so as to justify your leaving—and that this creates unnecessary drama and heartache.
But speaking as someone who has struggled with practicing the courage to simply tread water and be where I am? The biggest sign that I’m in need of it is the degree to which I’ll resist doing just that.
It’s easy to spot the resistance when it comes up for me: at those times, if I look at my life I will see all the places where I’m hustling and none of the places where I’m willing to practice the principle of “just be where you are .”
Maybe you can relate?
If you examine your own hustle-hustle, you’re likely to find some spot of pain that you’ve been trying to avoid. There’s some pain of not feeling good enough, some place of feeling lost and confused. (Hustle-hustle is a great way to avoid needing to feel those feelings.)
Sometimes, you will need to let it be enough that you are simply living, simply existing. Be where you are . Breathe where you are.
Sure, courage can be found in the hustle and push for something bigger and bolder.
It can also be found in those times when we are simply treading water, trying to be where we are because that is in fact, the boldest move we could make at that moment.
* * *
As I write this, I am thinking of the people I have known: the people who are trying to tread water as they birth new babies, or keep mental illness from taking over their lives, or bury people they love, or survive a divorce, or get sober, or figure out what to do as they’ve lost their financial footing, or make it day-to-day with a special needs child who is the love of your life but also the exhaustion of your life, or process a trauma, or reel from rejection after putting all their efforts behind a big dream.
I am thinking of you, if you are in the midst of that, and how there are messages coming at you—a million miles an hour, it might seem!—to hustle and dream bigger and go-go-go. And meanwhile, you’re feeling like you can just barely manage to take the wheel.
There are two things that are true, at these moments:
One, it is true that you will need to have the hard conversations with yourself, at some point. You will need to dig deep and ask yourself, “What am I going to commit to—what’s it going to take—for me to grow past this?”
And two, that moment might not be right now. If you have needed the permission to just tread water and make it moment-to-moment in the space you are in, I hope you’ll give it to yourself, right here and now.
This, too, is courage.