It’s a word I’ve heard a lot recently. Usually in the context of “wow, you’re traveling around the world alone – that’s so BRAVE.” Perhaps especially because I’m a girl, this adventure I’m on seems to require (or elicit) a huge amount of courage and boldness and bravery.
But it’s a new adjective for me. In my back-home life, people didn’t call me brave. They called me smart. Thoughtful. Organized. I was a planner, not a risk taker.
I toed the line and had the right answers and didn’t rock the boat. I did fun things and cool things and sometimes-scary things, but my life wasn’t marked by courage, it was marked by plans. And because of it’s foreignness, I have had to make sense of my new adjective – I’ve had to learn to define it and embrace it and make it my own.
So I’ve been thinking about bravery. About what it means and why it matters.
And here’s what I’ve realized:
Bravery and stupidity are really, really close to the same thing.
And that’s why being brave is so dang scary.
Whether a decision is brave or stupid depends on the result, but the two start in the exact same place.
If I eat bugs with cool new friends in Malaysia and share a sweet pic on Instagram, it’s brave.
If I eat bugs with cool new friends in Malaysia and get a parasite, it’s stupid.
If I jump off of a waterfall and live to tell the story, it’s brave.
If I jump off of a waterfall and break my legs, it’s stupid.
If I spend my days meeting people in the slums of the Philippines, hearing their stories and loving their hearts, it’s brave.
If I spend my days meeting people in the slums of the Philippines and get mugged, it’s stupid.
Don’t you see?
The actual choice – the action independent of the result – is the same either way.
In order to be called brave, we must first risk being called stupid.
And for someone like me, that is wildly difficult. Because I’ve spent my entire life – every single moment – avoiding being stupid. As someone whose identity is wrapped up in being smart, the scariest thing in the world is willingly opening myself up to being dumb.
Sure, I’ve done scary things before, but I’m not so sure they were really all that brave. Because I calculated the risk. I knew with near-certainty that I would succeed.
Every now and then, I’d have a moment of bravery. Usually, it was marked with a sinking, sickening feeling in my gut because I knew – I knew – that I didn’t know what was going to happen. I knew that it could go horribly wrong.
And the crappy part is that often it did go wrong.
Like telling a boy I liked him and not getting the same response back (ugh. the worst.). Or petitioning for a promotion and not getting it. Or swinging from a high ropes course and slamming into the wall.
These moments sucked. They hurt. I came out the other side looking broken and foolish and dumb.
I felt empowered because I had been brave. For those fleeting moments, I had taken a real risk – one where the outcome was completely uncertain – and I had gone for it anyway.
So here I am being brave again.
Waking up every day not knowing what is going to happen or how my moments are going to go. Willing to make mistakes. Willing to look stupid. That’s the bravest thing to me – to open myself up to mistakes and failure.
I’m not reckless – never have been, never will be. But I’m consciously letting go of the fear of looking dumb – the fear over what other people think – and embracing the adventure instead.
And here’s what I’ve learned so far: being brave is all kinds of scary, but it’s also all kinds of fun.