What Quiet Bravery Looks Like

What Quiet Bravery Looks Like

Hi friends! My six-week adventure is coming to an end. I’m spending just a few more days in Ireland and London, then I’ll be on a plane and back home next Wednesday! I’m so grateful to everyone who wrote guest posts for me while I was gone, but I’m especially grateful to Ann who surprised me with this one. You might remember her first post on paying attention. This one feels even better (probably because I really needed it myself). x

Cait’s European adventures have had me thinking a lot about bravery recently. Mostly about how much I admire her for taking this trip and how I could probably never be that brave and how somewhere inside some dark part of me, I’m uncomfortably jealous of her. I keep telling myself how I could never save the money and book the ticket and get on the plane by myself and go on this grand adventure with just a backpack and some dear friends scattered across the globe.

But watching Cait’s travels through the lens of Instagram isn’t the truth. It’s my perception of it.

I admittedly don’t know Cait all that well. I’ve been a total fangirl and cheered on her success from afar over the last few years, and when I finally worked up the courage to reach out to her, I found she was just as kind and wonderful and normal and human as I hoped she was. And she could also be scared to death, like I feel most of the time. She taught me that by posting about crying in a ball on a hike at the exact moment I was sitting on my couch thinking, “Gah, I wish I could be brave like that.”

Cait isn’t the only one making me think of bravery lately. A few months ago, I found myself on the side of Highway 1 in Northern California, a couple of hours south of my new life in San Francisco. I was looking at Bixby Bridge, a concrete behemoth that sits a cool 260 feet high. I felt sick looking at it, and I felt even sicker when I saw a teenager dangling her legs over the edge and lazily smoking a cigarette. My first instinct was to call the cops and get her down from the ledge. To be clear, there wasn’t even a ledge. Or a walking lane. She had illegally (and I imagine calmly) walked up the bridge next to the speeding cars, and my law-abiding jaw dropped just thinking about it.

As I watched this teenage girl get smaller in the rearview mirror, I thought (again) how I could never be that brave. I’m not brave by any stretch of the imagination. I refuse to jump off anything even remotely high; I hate swimming in the ocean because I don’t know what’s beneath me; I get major anxiety when I drive on the highway; and I sometimes get terrified when my boyfriend leaves to teach high schoolers that something bad will happen and he won’t come back. The list sadly goes on.

All this obsession and jealousy and fear have made me realize bravery has changed for me over the years. Sure, it sometimes looks like a teenager lazily defying death and giving me heart palpitations as I beg my boyfriend to let me call the police to come save her. But it also looks like packing up the U-Haul and moving across the country last July when all that was waiting for us was five friends and one job between the two of us. It sometimes looks like connecting with strangers because you just have this feeling you’ll be friends and maybe you need some more friends in your life. I’ve had days where I let myself feel brave just by getting out of bed in the morning, because the world is scary and we don’t have a lot of say in it.

I guess bravery has become quieter for me lately. It’s not as overt or showy as it once was—or like it was that day on Bixby Bridge. Things like having a hard conversation with my boyfriend, or asking my new neighbor who seems nice to go on a hike, or even emailing Cait once upon a time to tell her I liked her blog, makes my heart race and my palms sweat just as much as jumping off the double dock into the lake used to when I was a kid.

And as much as I’d love to have more of a devil-may-care attitude where I walk out into the world totally fearless and unflappable, I’ve realized it simply isn’t in the cards for me. I’ll never be the one to jump off something scary and high into the water for fun. I’ll never jump out of a plane because I like the freefall. I’ll probably never tour Europe alone. And I’ll certainly never smoke a cigarette 260 feet above rushing water.

Back in January, I resolved to be braver in 2018. I was tired of feeling anxious all the time. I was tired of worrying that someone had died every single time my mom called before 8am. If I’ve learned anything over the last six months and over this past year in San Francisco, it’s that bravery is an incredibly hard thing to measure. It’s not a finite number of pounds to lose or a $10,000 raise at work, like other New Year’s resolutions I’ve made. 

And because I can’t technically measure it or cross it off my neatly organized to-do list, I’m giving myself permission to think of it in a new light.

Because leaving the people and places you love is brave. Moving 3,000 miles away from your family is brave. So is loving someone and choosing a life with them, knowing something bad can happen to any of us at any moment. So is calling your friend when you need to apologize, forgiving yourself for your mistakes, forgetting your pride, grappling with shame, and putting yourself out there. My bravery may be quieter these days, but it can still make my ears ring and my heart beat a little faster from the sheer power of it.

Ann is a writer based in San Francisco. You can connect with her on Instagram @anndesaussure, especially now that she’s learned not to check it ten times an hour.

  • I found myself nodding along to this post the whole way through. I often wish I was braver. I’m the opposite of a daredevil and have been a rule-follower my whole life. It’s something I’m always pushing to change, but Ann’s right…it’s hard! I like living in my bubble and not pushing myself out of my comfort zone, but I also know that’s exactly what I need sometimes.

    • Thank you, Sarah! I’m so grateful to you for reading and sharing. All of us rule-followers need to stick together! :)

  • Hi,
    I understand why it could be scary to travel alone but Europe is one of the safest place to do it. I’m French and for me, USA is scary :D

    First time I traveled alone, my boyfriend had to push me in the plane. I was scared and it is normal to be. Just find someone to put you in the plane, by force if needed :D

    I hope you will come to Europe, I’m sure you will love it !

    @cait, I love your blog !

    • Anais, thank you! I’ll make it to Europe someday soon, and I’ll keep your advice in mind!

  • What constitutes as brave may be different for each of us. I think the important part is having the self-awareness to push past our comfort zones as that is where we stagnate. So much easier said than done! Thank you for the thoughtful essay and the reminder I always need to not get too comfortable.

    • So true, Wildly Imperfect. I’m always working on that self-awareness part. :) Thank you for reading!

  • Thanks for sharing this. What is brave for one person may be no big deal (or completely impossible) for someone else. Each time we go out of our comfort zones and do something scary, we learn and grow and gain courage for the next brave thing. Thanks again.

  • Yes, yes and yes. Oh goodness, do I ever relate with this post. Fear and worry has been a big part of my life over the past 6 ish years. I really wish it hadn’t. But it has. And the more fear and worry grew, the smaller my bravery became. But I have learnt, like you, to celebrate my own successes and accomplishments regardless of where they fit in the bigger picture. For example, I hate having my blood taken. It took me 4 months to get my courage up to go and get it done, and when I did it I felt like I might as well have jumped out of a plane. I. DID. IT. To others this may not seem brave, this may not even seem like something to be happy about. But that is because others are not me and do not have the same fears I do. And that day, I faced one of mine. I did it, and I celebrated myself for it. Here is to celebrating our quiet bravery!

  • Lovely post and couldn’t agree more. Bravery is personal to everyone. I think you have been extremely brave in writing the article itself. You should be very proud.

  • Thank you for this, Ann! So well-written, and it really resonated with me. Due to some combination of my personality and my upbringing I’ve usually been afraid to try new things, and incredulous and envious of people who embrace them with gusto. Coincidentally, I’ve spent a lot of this past weekend reflecting on that because one of my go-to strategies when I’m excitedly-but-anxiously planning a trip to a new place has been to check out Anthony Bourdain’s travels to that destination – my trips have always felt more doable after I’ve seen him have an overall good time eating and chatting with locals wherever I’m going.

    There’s a quote to the effect of “it’s not brave if you’re not scared” that I’ve thought of many times over the years. Maybe I’ll never fearlessly leap from a cliff into the sea below, but as long as I’m expanding my horizons I’m still growing as a person. And, there’s not a lot of point in dwelling on whether something *should* scare you – if it does, it does, and if you find a way to push past that and do it despite your fear, that’s an act of bravery.

    • Calla, thank you! What a wonderful tribute to Anthony Bourdain. I hope you share your travels with us!

  • I love this so much, it’s really resonating with me. I would also add that bravery is knowing yourself, and empowering yourself to fight for the things you need. Thank you for sharing!

  • I really enjoyed this piece! I’m personally fearless, but my husband isn’t as much so. Learning to be married to a guy that I feel I have to push to try new things hasn’t been the easiest, but he’s a great guy so I wouldn’t change it for the world. I could see my husband reflected in your words, and it gave me a chance to sit back and reflect. I’ll have to ask him what he thinks bravery means now!

    • Amazing how it works in relationships, Moriah. I always envy my boyfriend for being “braver” than I am! It’s all about perspective. :)

  • How I needed to read this post today! I often look at my younger sister doing all these brave things – leaving her city life to go and run a social enterprise in Cambodia or traveling through India by herself – while I’m at home working in a bank and raising my daughter. But there are many brave things I do on a regular basis, heck, parenting itself is a brave feat. But sometimes I catch myself comparing our lives and I get envious. This post really made me appreciate the little things :) Thanks Ann

    • Mrs. A, I think parenting is one of the bravest things you could possibly do! (Speaking as a non-parent…) Your daughter is incredibly lucky to have you.

  • SO. This is honestly unrelated to the article’s message but I had to share.
    I just started listening to Cait’s audiobook today and felt really connected to it. It’s deeply similar to my own life and story, including where I am now. So when I came home after work, I looked up her blog and this article came up – this picture made my heart stop. Literally 3 months ago, in March, I was standing on the edge of this exact bridge, contemplating jumping off to my death. I had robotically and calmly walked along the crack between the edge and the speeding cars, climbed up onto the edge of the bridge, and looked down 1000 feet into nothingness. Felt nothing, Sat down and wondered if it mattered. I climbed back down, and here I am today, on this blog page, after a strange and bumpy path back to safety, I needed to share bc the coincidence is so unlikely. The universe is so strange!!

    • Thank you so much for being open + honest and sharing this story with us, CS. And if you want to talk about how strange the universe is: I wasn’t going to use that picture at the top originally, until Ann sent it along, and I am now so grateful she did! Please know that on the days when you feel nothing, you are still not alone – and I am so glad you didn’t jump. That took a quiet bravery that I hope you one day look back on and feel grateful you possessed. <3

    • CS, I’m with Cait. Thank you so much for sharing your incredibly brave story with us. I got chills reading it. You’re never alone, and I’m glad Cait’s blog + book found you when it did. Sending you lots of love from San Francisco!

  • Oh, I hear you on the fearfulness, especially with driving and going to teach in a school. Really, we’re not completely safe anywhere. It’s humbling to think of how many things are beyond our control. I guess I’m learning how to live with the fear, or rather, to live bravely but understand that my “what if” fears may indeed come to pass, and somehow I will endure anyway. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

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