endure or face (unpleasant conditions or behavior) without showing fear.
My granddaughter’s school hosts a 5K fundraiser every year. She decided this year she was big enough to walk it, motivated by the medal, and the snow cone she’d receive once she’d completed the course.
We stood at the base of the 65-foot high bridge. “It’s HUUUUUUGE!”, she said, gazing up toward the top. We began our ascent and she skipped along and chatted excitedly. We reached a place where we could see the expansive river, and beautiful scenery. The chatter ceased and I assumed she was drinking in the magnificent view.
But when I looked at her, she was crying. “What’s wrong?” The tears really began to flow. She was afraid. Fear crept in and convinced her a snow cone was no longer worth the climb.
I often ask people, “When did you feel the most brave?” Their answers always amaze me. Everyone’s interpretation of bravery is so incredibly different, and that adds to the fascination in their answers. Some have said they felt most brave while going through cancer treatment. While another shared, although she had a tremendous fear of flying, she’d recently flown and felt empowered for doing it.
Bravery is not the absence of fear. Bravery is being afraid, but having the courage to do the thing, in spite of the fear. Courage is the consent to respond bravely, regardless of how we feel. Perhaps you think brave people lack fear, but that is definitely not the case. We all wrestle with fears, but the most courageous have learned how to harness it, and channel it appropriately.
Fear can be a powerful thing. Real power lies in learning how to leverage fear. For starters, it is important to recognize fear as a valuable part of our being. In fact, it’s part of survival. Fear is actually a protective response that keeps us from placing ourselves in harmful situations, such as not touching an open flame. However, if we allow fear to intimidate and scare us, it can rob us of life’s most courageous adventures, and perhaps even life itself.
It is not about what is making us fearful, but why we are fearful. While some fear is rational, other fears can be irrational. These can occur in response to trauma or a traumatic event. For example, a near drowning may result in a fear of water.
In addition, fears can be amplified if you already exist in a place of fear. When you are functioning in this realm, even the most harmless things can appear frightening. This is the fear that exists, for example, while you are watching a horror movie. Your anxiety is heightened and when a loud noise occurs, or someone jumps out at you, you come out of your skin. This is precisely the fear that my little one experienced, causing great, big tears to flow.
We tried everything to distract her, but we kept walking. We were committed. She wanted to turn around and go back, but we forged ahead never letting go over her hand. We told her how brave she was. It didn’t work. “I don’t want to be brave.“ We pointed out the other participants, including other children, cheering her on saying, ”if they can do it, you can do it too!“ That didn’t work either.
We made it to the other side and when she realized she was going to have to cross back over the bridge to make it to the finish line, she cried even harder. My heart was broken at her obvious anxiety, not to mention I’d run out of possible distractions, and we still had a ways to go.
We started the climb back over the bridge, the sun peeking out from behind big, fluffy clouds. “Look at that cloud,” I said, “it looks like a great big alligator!” She looked up, sniffling, and then she giggled. “I see it!” We pointed at other clouds, each of us taking turns at guessing what we thought it looked like. Before you know it, we had reached the top and began making our way down the other side.
When we’d exhausted the game, we were descending down the last portion of the bridge and suddenly, she caught sight of the finish line. Music was playing, balloons were flying, and people were cheering with megaphones. “I can see the end! I hear the music! I see the snowcone tent!” She was practically running!
She crossed the finish line, arms raised like a champion and shouted, “I AM SO BRAVE. . .but I don’t want to do it again!”
Perhaps you’re bound by fear at this very moment and, like my granddaughter, you don’t want to be brave anymore. What we look at with our natural eyes, may seem too overwhelming to climb. But we can learn a few things from a five-year-old.
1. Keep going
You don’t have to run to finish the race. You simply have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Success never comes to those who quit. Finishing brings triumph, and snowcones.
2. There is strength in community
Surround yourself with people who see your most courageous self and will walk with you, regardless of how many tears you cry.
3. Never let go
Hold on to someone’s hand if you have to, but never let go. The road to courage is paved with stones of hope. You don’t have to see it today to believe it will happen eventually. Hold tight to your dreams and they will never die.
4. Look up
Looking down leads to gravel and dead ends. Up is endless. Look at the clouds, the stars, the sky, and know you were created for more than what lies before you.
5. Finish strong
Acknowledge your bravery, hands raised high like the winner you are, and know that you never have to cross that mountain again, unless you choose to.
Momentum builds the closer you get to your goals. Celebrate with whatever brings you joy. . . music, balloons, and especially snow cones.