Courage: A Black Female Millennial’s Perspective on Bravery in the 21st Century.

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Brene Brown is one of my favourite humans in the entire world. I mean that. She came into my life via a Netflix special she did called “A Call To Courage.” It was a brilliant talk within which she touched on several different topics, including her trademark dissection of shame, bravery, courage and vulnerability. If you’ve ever listened to her TED Talks, podcast or seen her on Super Soul Sundays on the OWN Network, you’ll know that Brene is extremely funny, incredibly smart, a total academic and a great teacher. There was a line she said in the special (well there were several, really) but this was one that really stood out to me. She was talking about what she had learned after 20 years of research on courage, vulnerability and bravery and she said “if you’re brave with your life, (if) you choose to live in the arena, you’re going to get your assed kicked. You are going to fall, you are going to fail; you are going to know heartbreak. It’s a choice.” She then went on to describe her definition of vulnerability which she says is not about winning or losing. “It’s having the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome.”

At the time I was watching the original airing of the special, I was in one of the lowest points in my life. I was unemployed, broke beyond all recognition and dealing with feelings of depression about the state of my life. Hearing this definition of vulnerability made me deeply reflective and thoughtful. I started thinking about all the times in my life I had “messed up.” I thought about jobs I had lost, relationships or potential ones I had inadvertently sabotaged, issues with my health I should have managed better. I thought about times I had said the wrong thing or said something that was unkind. Because I had. I thought about times I had felt the fear of rejection in the pit of my stomach or of being shamed and humiliated; or worst of all, being unwanted. All of these feelings are ones that the media and society tell you are bad and that you should do everything in your power to run or escape from. This is typically reinforced by well-meaning friends and family who want you to say positive because it is too uncomfortable for them to see you depressed. Most people are uncomfortable with discomfort. They will attempt to do anything to relieve or numb it out. But here is what I’ve learned in my own most recent valley experience. The pain and discomfort is actually where you start doing the most growth. It is in the ground zero of your life that you can truly assess where you are, how you got there and what you’ve learned. This is the arena. This is where you get your ass kicked. This is where you fall, fail and know heartbreak. And it really and truly is a choice to enter in, because once you realize that your arena is simply a classroom and some of the lessons you get on the first try (and others not so much) but that ultimately nothing goes wrong, then you’ve mastered what this life really is about. You’ve learned and thank God for the lessons because you wouldn’t be who and where you are today without them. Without knowing what hunger feels like, you’d never appreciate food as much as you do. Without going without a car, you’d never appreciate ANY car you’re given and the freedom having your own vehicle allows you. Without having any one around you to support you, you wouldn’t appreciate it when someone takes time out of their day to check in on you or show you love. And without losing your health, you’d never truly understand or appreciate the gift of having good health. So nothing is really bad. Everything is simply a lesson and an opportunity for growth. Nothing more, nothing less. And it is absolutely your choice on how you choose to see the obstacles in your life.

Which brings me to courage. When Brene provided her definition of vulnerability, I had an epiphany. We are all at our most vulnerable when we are coming out of our valley experiences. Because we really don’t have a guarantee that what happened before won’t happen again. But we show up anyway. We get back in the arena (classroom) and we now have a wisdom, knowledge, understanding and discernment we didn’t have before. So now, if that same lesson comes around again, if we learned from the first time and don’t want to experience the same lesson, we shift. We adapt. We change. And if we don’t learn the second time around, then we’ll get another opportunity to learn again via another valley experience until we get it. Ultimately how many valley experiences about the same lesson we have is determined by us and our actions. But the fact that we even show up everyday knowing life can throw us some serious curve balls, makes us brave. Knowing that we literally have zero control over the outcome of any given day but we still show up and do our part, makes us brave. There are people who struggle with addictions, and for one day, chose not to use their substance of choice. That’s bravery. There are people who struggle with smoking addictions, who cut back one cigarette a day. That’s bravery. There are people who struggle with their weight, and decided to cut one unhealthy thing they really love out of their diet and implement one exercise into their day. That’s bravery. As a society overall, it seems like we’ve become so used to celebrating the big things that we forget the everyday ways that we are brave, vulnerable and courageous, even if we’re the only ones who know it. We tend to look to social media or people to validate us based on their standards of bravery instead of reaffirming ourselves an being proud of what we’ve come through. No one ever really wants to talk about the darkness or their valley experience in too much depth; they just want to skirt over it and then show you the other side. But I have learned that it is in the dirt, soil and darkness of our valleys that you find the most value. It is there where you can determine and see if the work was really put in to change.

So for me, courage and bravery is having the strength to be vulnerable to allow people to see your valley experience process. Because when you can show them how you got out of your valley, you will hopefully inspire them to do the work and encourage them in their own journey. If we reframe our thinking around how we refer to the lessons in our lives i.e.: mistakes, bad choices, etc., put aside our judgements about the “rightness” or “wrongness” of our experiences, and simply look at everything as a blessing, we could accelerate our healing of trauma’s and issues. I don’t say this easily or lightly as I know not everything takes the same time to heal. Some wounds and hurts run very deep for sure. But if we can eventually see that everything works for our good, and I mean EVERYTHING, then you will realize that nothing ever goes wrong. Everything is working out exactly the way it should in any given moment. And it is completely your choice every day of your life to decide whether you are going to have the courage and bravery to love yourself unconditionally no matter your perceived flaws. Self love…that’s bravery.

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