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.