“If you are not living your truth, you are living a lie.” ~Joseph Curiale
Her sobs break my heart. We have all been there. When the relationship starts feeling like a war-torn city as opposed to home.
I close in for a hug. “You can’t go on like this,” I whisper.
“Well, I don’t know what to do. Please don’t tell me to break up,” she looks up pleadingly. “I can’t do it. I won’t be able to bear it. I am not as strong as you.”
A familiar musical refrain from Tina Turner comes to mind albeit with a slight word twist…
“What’s strength got to do, got to do with it?
The Oxford Dictionary defines strength as “the emotional and mental qualities necessary in dealing with difficult or distressing situations.” It almost seems as if these set of qualities are innate—something you are born with, like blue eyes or curly hair.
Those in possession of strength flit about larger than life, surmounting all obstacles without a strand of bother, achieving Herculean glory. They can do just about anything, bear just about anything. Nothing stands in their way.
That was my assumption as well until I realized some people actually considered me part of this mythical group. My response to that? Utter incredulity.
I am scared of literally everything. I am scared of public speaking. I am scared of the dark. I am scared of ants. I am scared of meeting new people (I have been known to hide behind bookshelves at loud parties). Most of the time before I start something new or need to do something confrontational, I spend hours under my duvet or eating an entire chocolate fudge cake from Sainsbury’s to soothe my nerves.
If anything, fear has been my faithful partner since Day One. Yet, despite this, I have made what can be considered difficult decisions; taken risks, explored the paths less traveled, moved myself out of comfort zones, acted contrary to advice from friends and family, etc. And that’s not because I am strong. But it is because I choose courage.
And courage, my friend, is not strength.
Courage is Simply Your Truth
According to American author and professor Brené Brown, an early definition of courage is “To speak one’s mind by telling all, one’s heart.”
The root word of courage offers a telling clue. “Cor” in Latin or “coeur” in French means—the heart. So being courageous is nothing more than being true to your heart, or in other words, telling your truth.
But speaking your truth is tough since most of the time, we often aren’t on good terms with our own truths. We get caught up with keeping up appearances, where or who we ought to be, what others expect of us, what is socially acceptable, what is convenient, etc. Our truths wander lost amongst this crowded landscape.
A long, long time ago, when I was still in the corporate world, my then-boss asked me where I saw myself in a year’s time. I knew he was keen to promote me. And I was convinced I wanted to be promoted as well. After all, I was due one, and well, who says no to a promotion? All I had to do was give the ‘right’ answer—something about wanting to grow further, taking on more responsibilities, I was ready, etc.
Yet that afternoon sitting across from him, an unanticipated response sprung to my mind instead—“Anywhere but here.”
That floored me. Until that point, it never had dawned on me that I was that dissatisfied at work. I mean, was I deliriously fulfilled? No, but I wasn’t never expecting fulfillment.
I was comfortable, I loved my colleagues; the money was good and enough to support a lifestyle that I loved. I thought that I had struck a sweet spot; a happy compromise I was willing to put up with for the rest of my life. But my heart apparently seemed to disagree. This sweet compromise started to feel like a huge mistake—as if I was on the wrong train.
Sometimes when faced with an inconvenient truth, our first reaction is to will it away. And that’s exactly the strategy I adopted. I pleaded with this feeling; tried to cajole it into disappearing. But it never did. It stood, simple and unwavering in the deep cave of my being.
And that’s what you will realize about The Truth. It comes from the reservoir of wisdom, and like everything from those parts, it never shouts or screams. Your fears do. Your ego will screech. Panic attacks will roll like devastating hurricanes through you. But your truth is like a meditating monk, sitting quietly, waiting for you to catch up with it. A steadfast signal for your life.
Courage is a Navigation System
Courage is not a set of qualities. You don’t pursue courage. Courage beckons you. It is your life sat nav or true north (to use a Martha Beck term). A lighthouse that guides you through the sea that is your life.
It is true what they say, you cannot serve two masters. When you orient your decision-making around what is true to you, fear stops factoring in. It doesn’t disappear from the landscape completely, but it gets more muted in the distinct light of your truth. You will stop moving to whirlwinds of opinions and projected futures. Your life will instead be propelled by your unique, sacred truths.
I hate having my writing read by other people. It feels like someone has peeled off all the skin on my body, and I stand facing the world with nothing to protect me. Yet I continue to write despite my fear of the cauldron pot of criticism, judgments, and embarrassment because that’s what my heart wants. Writing is what I have do to fully inhabit myself. It is more necessity than a want. Everything else such as my fear and shame fades in significance.
The Path of Courage
The path of courage is usually not one of grand feats; it is woefully undramatic. It will never demand you break up today, or else. Instead, it will guide you to go and sleep, sign up for a retreat, dance to Kate Bush, sit quietly to watch the clouds, or even watch a particular YouTube video.
The path is gentle because your heart is all about love, and gentleness is the language of love. Unsurprisingly, walking the path of courage will also soften you and make you gentler.
The path of courage is also utterly simplifying. When I centered my life around my heart, I stopped hankering after certain things I had previously assumed I liked or would make me happy like learning a new language, doing tango, traveling, going out with friends, etc.
It became easier to admit that these activities never actually fed me, and I wasn’t really enjoying them that much. With clarity, no became an easier word to articulate. So did my needs.
There is no guarantee that the path of courage will lead you to a happily-ever-after. Oftentimes, it will lead you to situations where you will struggle to find meaning. It will drag you through the mud, tempt you to promising roads, and then fling you against a dead-end. But I promise, even when you wander with no map in sight, you will never feel led astray. Or that you are on the wrong train.
What is courage calling on you to do right now?