On Choosing Bravery
When my daughter was six years old, her father and I took her to a theme park near our home. We were watching a live show with pirates and seals when the head pirate picked my daughter out of the crowd and asked her to join him onstage. She clung to me and shook her head no. The pirate kept trying to woo her, and her father encouraged her to go, but she buried her head in my arm until eventually the pirate gave up and selected another child to participate. We watched the rest of the show, and on the way home her father brought it up.
“Why didn’t you go up on stage, baby girl?” He asked.
“I was scared.” She said.
“No one was going to hurt you. They just wanted you to play with them.”
“I didn’t want all of those people looking at me. What if they laughed at me?”
“What if they loved you? What if you had fun?”
Eventually, my daughter concluded that she should have participated in the show. For years after that, when we would go to shows where they would ask for audience volunteers, her hand would shoot up, hoping to be picked. She was never selected again. Now and then she would say, “I wish I had participated in the pirate show. I should have tried it.”
My daughter learned at a very young age what it took me much longer to figure out: sometimes you only get one shot at something, so you’d better take it, or you may regret it forever.
Fear is a thief that robs us of life’s most magnificent experiences: adventurous travel, career advancement, or a chance at love. Sometimes we decline these opportunities because we’re afraid; we fear that we’ll suffer ridicule or injury. We fear that we will be rejected, or get our hearts broken. We think about the risks we’ve taken in the past that haven’t paid off – professional failures, painful breakups – and we let the sting of those hurts keep us from trying something new. We know that if we risk caring about someone or something, we open ourselves up to potential loss. But what’s worse than the pain of failure or rejection is living with the regret of not having tried. At least when you fail, you know that it’s not for lack of effort on your part that things didn’t work out. But when you don’t try, you’ll always wonder what could have been. Maybe you’ll be fortunate enough to have a different opportunity someday – perhaps you’ll meet a new potential love interest or get another job offer. But what if you don’t?
I am the world’s worst skier. I’ve never made it past the bunny slopes because as soon as I start picking up speed and flying down the mountain, I make myself fall because I’m afraid of what might happen if I stay the course. By making myself fall, I protect myself, but I also deprive myself of the joy of skiing. For those few seconds between skiing and self-induced falls, it’s exhilarating, and it makes me wonder, what would happen if I leaned into it instead of self-sabotaging? What if I stopped trying to protect myself and started enjoying myself instead?
Fear keeps us from putting our work, our hearts, and our true selves on the line. It prevents us from using our gifts and from connecting with others. Fear tells us that the possible rejection or failure is a reason not to try; the risk isn’t worth it.
What we should be afraid of is a life without human connection and never doing the work that we were meant to do. That is more likely to ruin our lives than a breakup or a failed business venture; these are temporary setbacks, but regret is forever. All of the greatest love stories and success stories start with vulnerability; someone taking a risk, and giving someone or something the power to hurt them. The courage to say perhaps you will mock me or reject me, but I’m presenting my authentic, imperfect self anyway. Rejection hurts, but not as much as regret. Regret about the risks you didn’t take, the purpose you didn’t fulfill, or the people you didn’t love or let love you can haunt you for the rest of your life.
Opportunities such as falling in love and career-making endeavors don’t present themselves every day. If you don’t take your shot with that amazing person, someone else will. If you don’t take that job, they will find another candidate. Ask yourself before you pass up these opportunities – can you live with knowing that someone else will seize them?
It’s important to learn lessons from the hurts of our past, but it’s also important not to let the hurts of the past rob us of the possibilities that the future could hold.
Have you stopped taking risks because you fear a repeat of past hurts? What would you rather live with – the possibility of failure or the certainty of regret?