When I was a kid, what I really wanted to be was brave. I was a book lover, even then, and in the stories I read, I watched as characters faced their fears, battled monsters and bullies, and did the impossible. After all, brave is one of the most important things that a character, or more importantly, a person can be. The brave leader. Courageous. Fearless. Unblinking.
Growing up, I would have never called myself brave. I wanted to be brave. I was raised by parents who are leaders, who stand up for what they believe in, and don’t put up with crap from anyone, but I was never really like them in that aspect. I was smart. I got good grades. I was polite and, I played by the rules. I never even got grounded growing up.
I was also scared.
I was scared of saying too much, speaking out, disagreeing. I was afraid of failing, of looking stupid. I was afraid to try new things, meet new people, risk being rejected. I’ve spent a good majority of my life being terrified.
But as I will say time and time again, running changed everything. I started getting serious about running when I was a freshman in college. I was miserable and desperate for something to get me out of my rut. I trained and, I entered my first 5K (3 miles). For the first time, really in my entire life, I risked failure. I could have not finished. I could have given up, but I didn’t. I crossed the finish line, and it was at this moment, this exact moment, that something changed inside of me.
Two months later, I registered for a half marathon (13.1 miles). I was so nervous I couldn’t sleep for the entire week before the race. I finished. Two months later, I registered for a marathon (26.2 miles). The week before the race, I had to remind myself to breathe. When I crossed the finish line, I was exhausted and crying but grinning ear to ear, and suddenly, I knew I could do anything.
I started pushing myself out of my comfort zone – talking to people, opening up, saying how I really felt, being myself. I stopped being afraid of what people thought. I learned to stand up for myself. I learned it was okay to tell someone I was unhappy with them. I learned how to forgive. I learned it’s okay to fail and that failing, sometimes, is the only way to improve.
The other day, I was running in Leicester, no music, just me in a foreign city after 41 days of being separated from my home and the people I love, and I thought about what it really means to be brave.
People say to be brave is to be fearless, but I disagree. Being brave doesn’t mean being without fear. Being brave means acknowledging fear but refusing to let it control us. Christopher Paolini wrote, “Without fear there cannot be courage,” and he’s right.
Bravery cannot exist without fear. Fear is natural. I warns us change is coming, of danger, of the possibility of sadness. The brave are not fearless, but rather they know that fear can only hold power over them if they let it.
Three years ago, I wouldn’t have called myself brave. I wouldn’t have gotten on a plane to England. I wouldn’t have joined a sport I know nothing about. I wouldn’t have run a marathon.
But, now, sitting here today, I am not so scared anymore. Fear can’t control me, but that’s not to say that I still don’t get scared. Every time I get up to speak in front of people, I still feel butterflies in my stomach, but every time that I go on regardless, a part of that fear withers away.
And after all this time, I wonder how I let fear control me for so much of my life.
Every so often for the past few months, I’ve been surprising myself. Suddenly, I am a leader. Suddenly, I say what I think and, I’m not afraid to be heard. Suddenly, I can see those leadership qualities of my parents in myself.
But, the biggest surprise of all has been the word brave. It started with people telling it to me, but recently, the word has been popping up in my own head more and more. Brave. Courageous. Adventurous.
It feels pretentious to use it to describe myself, but after all this time, I find myself believing it more and more. I am brave. I’ve become brave. I wasn’t born with it like the characters from my books, but maybe more importantly, I’ve discovered it on my own.
I know fear. We are old friends. But, now I know, fear is in the mind. It can dismantle us if we let it, but in every moment of every day, we can choose to rise above fear – no matter who we are or where we come from. And every moment that we overcome fear, we chip away at it. We come to find that fear really starts and ends within ourselves, and deep down we have always had the power to overcome it.
Have you done something recently that scares you?