When I started working on my latest book about how fear makes you sick and how courage helps you heal, I had the nerve to tell Matt I was writing the book for fearful people like him. (Note to self: Keep some thoughts private.)
Not surprisingly, Matt got offended and we had a bit of a tiff, which we can now laugh about enough for him to give me permission to tell you this story.
For years, I’ve been calling Matt “Dirty Feet” from the Gandhi quote, “I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” I call him Dirty Feet because I’ve spent the past five years taking sometimes terrifying career and financial risks, and these particular breed of risks frighten Matt, who projects his fears onto me, as if I don’t have enough of my own, leading me to question myself. I’ve had to build a bit of a bubble around myself so I can feel safe while taking sometimes radical risks, like quitting my secure job in medicine or turning down a book deal that didn’t feel quite right and losing my agent as a result.
There’s More Than One Way To Be Brave
At first, I got pissed when Matt, who thinks of himself as brave, not fearful, got defensive and felt insulted. But then I had an epiphany. While he might be fearful about money and other career hooey, Matt is super brave when it comes to love and relationships. From the day I met him ten years ago, he was fearless in his expression of affection, in a way few men have ever been with me. There were none of those silly games people play. I always knew exactly how he felt, and he was brave enough to risk emotional intimacy from the get-go.
I, on the other hand, straight out of an abusive marriage, was not so brave. I guarded my heart. I made him earn his way in. Even when he did, I often gave him only small pieces of my heart in measured doses, one teaspoonful at a time.
It’s not just me that brought out the bravery in Matt. I’ve also witnessed him putting his heart on the line in other relationships, risking rejection, hurt, loss, or judgment in order to express his desires and needs.
I, in contrast, have only just this year started to become brave in my relationships, as I’m learning to keep my heart open with people I love, as I’m teaching my daughter to do, as I’m taking risks with my friendships by asking for what I need, and as the recent loss of my dog Grendel reinforced.
Fear In Relationships
After apologizing to Matt and promising not to call him Dirty Feet anymore, I realized that many of us are brave in one or two aspects of our lives but fearful in others. As a teenager, I loved fearlessly. But after a failed engagement and two failed marriages, I wound up pretty guarded when it comes to love.
Taking career risks, however, is now pretty easy for me. I’m also unafraid to take creative risks. I take wild leaps of faith all the time when it comes to business, books, and money. Because I’ve taken many brave risks in the past few years, most of which have turned out well, I fancy myself pretty fearless.
But when it comes to relationships, my track record isn’t so hot, so I’m more than a little gun shy. As far as I’ve come in learning to be braver in my relationships with Matt, my other family, my friends, and my colleagues over the past year, I have to admit that I’m still pretty afraid – afraid of rejection, afraid of not being understood, afraid of being perceived as flawed and damaged, afraid of not being valued, afraid of really making myself vulnerable. Lately, I take more risks in my relationships. But it still feels very scary. I suppose, as Susan Jeffers says, I just need to continue to feel the fear and do it anyway.
It made me realize that we’re all brave – and we’re all afraid – at least a little bit. Every one of us has “dirty feet” about something, no matter how big our balls or ovaries. What varies is our comfort zone. Risks I take with relative ease might be terrifying to you, while risks you take might leave me hyperventilating.
Fear Is Personal
So is courage. Bravery exists on a spectrum. Even the most fearful people have moments of wild courage, and even the most fearless can be found cowering under the table sometimes. We all exhibit courage in our own unique ways too.
Some, like Kathleen Prophet who refused surgery for cervical cancer and chose to heal herself, are brave in battling health issues.
Some, like Tama Kieves, a Harvard lawyer who left her job to find her calling, make brave career choices.
Some, like Vikki Johnson, are brave enough to give away a kidney to save a distant relative’s life.
Some, like Chaz Bono, who had the courage to transform from a woman to a man, are brave enough to come out of the closet and be unapologetic about who they really are.
Some have the wild courage to leave relationships that weigh them down, or even cause bodily harm. Some are brave enough to get sober and stay clean. Others dare to heal from unspeakable traumas.
The capacity of the human spirit to find the courage to do the unimaginable continues to leave me in awe.
How Are You Brave?
Are you brave in career or finance, love and relationships, sex, your health? Do you take spiritual risks? Do you take creative risks? Are you willing to face your past? Are you brave enough to grow? Are you courageous enough to take heroic action?
Tell us… how are you brave? Post your comments!
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