Courage. That’s my word for 2017, and it keeps coming up over and over again.
I’m re-reading Brene’ Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection, and I came across this reminder, “The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage had a very different definition than it does today. Courage originally meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ . . . Ordinary courage is about putting our vulnerability on the line.”
In this way, I think I have been learning courage little by little for years by dipping my toes into the waters of courage. But during the past year and a half, I have gradually been swimming into the deep end of courage.
For so much of my life I have been hustling for worthiness and approval – to use Brene’ Brown’s terms – by “constantly performing, perfecting, pleasing, and proving.” But more recently, I have begun to tell my heart, to live my story. And it’s terrifying at times. During the terrifying moments, I can feel myself slipping so effortlessly back into the habits of performing and perfecting, of pleasing and proving, and back into the feelings of unworthiness and not-enoughness when I fail to be perfect.
This morning I read this passage in The Gifts of Imperfection,
Shame keeps worthiness away by convincing us that owning our stories will lead to people thinking less of us. Shame is all about fear. We’re afraid that people won’t like us if they know the truth about who we are, where we come from, what we believe, how much we’re struggling, or, believe it or not, how wonderful we are when soaring (sometimes it’s just as hard to own our strengths as our struggles).
As I read those words, my soul cried out Yes, yes, yes! Exactly!
And the thing is – sometimes this fear is completely unfounded. So many people will hear our stories, know our truth, listen to our struggles and feel much more connected to us. Their fondness for us will grow. Our friendship will deepen.
But sometimes, the thing we fear is exactly what happens. Some people will learn our truth, hear what we believe, watch our struggle or our strength — and then they will reject us. Either they won’t like us or they will be intimidated by us or they will become uncomfortable around us. Maybe they won’t approve. Maybe they only liked us for whom they wanted us to be or wanted us to serve their need for us, to match their idea of us. And when we stop serving their purpose or fulfilling their notion of us, they turn us away.
This has happened to me. On a broad scale, I think it happened to many of us during this past election cycle. As we spoke up and voiced our beliefs, some people decided they didn’t like us. I actually experienced social media friends shushing me. Or at least attempting to shush me. One person told me she liked it much more when I told cutesy, amusing stories about my children – couldn’t I just go back to that and stop having opinions? Another person basically said enough already, stop telling me what you believe. Both of these people, either subconsciously or consciously, attempted to shame me into fitting their purpose for me, their need for me to be light and breezy and funny and surfacey. When that didn’t work, they unfriended me.
But you know what? Though that would have crushed me seven years ago, now I was able to reassure myself that those people weren’t true friends anyway. I certainly didn’t need to spend energy hustling for their approval or doing the song and dance to prove my worthiness.
And the election cycle was just the warm-up to the divorce announcement. Certainly, some people have learned this truth and distanced themselves. They haven’t approved. They decided they don’t like me. And again, I have felt a deep awareness that these people must not have been true friends either.
As it turns out, the fear that drives us to all the performing and perfecting and pleasing and proving is so much worse than the reality. The dreaded what-if looming over me is always more frightening and darker and heavier than whatever comes to pass.
The truth is – sometimes owning our stories does lead to people thinking less of us. But the people who really matter, the people who truly belong in our lives will learn our truth, see our struggles, celebrate our strengths and love us just the same. Maybe even more. These people will know that each snippet of our story – each sliver of truth – is only a part of the whole of who we are.
At the beginning of this year, I wrote in my journal that I need courage to be myself and courage to change and grow. I need courage to own my story, to tell my truth. I also need courage to let the chips fall where they may when I do, courage to trust that the people who are meant to stay in my story will stay. Finally, I need courage to not give in to the fear of the what-if, courage to trust that I am worthy and the people who truly love me will find me worthy of their love.
Have you experienced this? Have you taken the risk and told your truth only to be rejected? How did you handle that? How do you muster the courage to own your story?