Practicing Courage

When I find myself facing new challenges, I try to remind myself of challenges I have met in the past. Like moving to Northern Michigan and starting a new job as a staff writer. Like covering a fire in rural Manistee County in the snow right after Thanksgiving that year. Like driving from Manistee to Ludington in a whiteout to pick up a package.

Like walking into a nonprofit following a devastating hospitalization and offering to volunteer. Being given responsibility for the newsletter and rising to the occasion. Sticking with that nonprofit and finding my place there, becoming known, becoming trusted, proving myself with designing the annual report. Being hired.

We all have to practice courage every day. Sometimes, getting out of bed in the morning takes a lot of courage. Facing the day. Isn't it sometimes a lot easier to turn right around and go back to bed? I certainly have done my share of trying to sleep away my problems. 

I struggle with anxiety, sometimes panic attacks. That moment that I moved from Detroit to my Northern Michigan apartment and my parents drove away, I immediately had a panic attack. I did some deep breathing exercises, then got up and went to the grocery store to stock my new fridge, butterflies still in my stomach. I had butterflies in my stomach on my first day of full-time work as a journalist, too. Those butterflies were there for weeks.

Now, driving at night in bad weather scares me. Long, dark, lonely highways scare me. I don't count myself as a brave person. But I keep doing stuff. Stuff. Like driving after dark through bad weather.

Public speaking scares me. Being a leader scares me. Public performing scares me.

But I am doing that, too -- telling my story in a NAMI presentation, leading a NAMI support group, playing piano for an audience. 

I think the reality is that a lot of people are scared. It's not just me. Or you.

We all spend time being scared. Degree of anxiety varies -- and my anxiety, I know, can be intense. The panic attacks -- the sweating, the shaking, the hyperventilating -- are terrifying.

But we all must gather our courage at some point. Because if we don't, our life starts shrinking. "Life shrinks or expands in proportions to one's courage." ~ Anais Nin. That quote was the wallpaper on my work computer for a long time.   

So I will keep practicing courage. I will remember that we all must practice it.

And it must be practiced, like a habit, like a routine, day by day, hour by hour. It must be taken to heart -- "cour," after all, is "heart." And slowly but surely, my life--and yours--will expand. It will grow beautiful and rich. It already is.       


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