By Jodi Baretz, LCSW, CHHC
I received a candle with the above quote from one of my clients. I’m so glad that message resonated with her, as it rings so true for me as well. Most of us are afraid of the unknown and pushing ourselves beyond our limits. We are comfortable with the familiar, and have trouble with change, even if the “familiar” isn’t serving us so well. Doing something new or different produces anxiety by its very nature. Our brains have to switch out of autopilot (default mode) and focus on the new circumstances. Without this ability, there can be no courage.
Courage comes from the Latin words for heart and era meaning “the era of the heart,” symbolizing the conscious decision to follow your heart. Courage means willing to be vulnerable. To have courage means to “put yourself out there,” even if you may fail. Courage does not mean that you don’t get afraid. You feel the fear and do it anyway. It means that you start to master the fear and it doesn’t prevent you from following what you believe to be right or do what needs to be done.
No one is fearless. Being fearless sounds great and inspiring, but the fear always returns and the inner voice will always be there second guessing,(unless, of course, you’re Donald Trump). Our critical side is there to protect us from pain, vulnerability and failure. We have to acknowledge the voice, but not pay much attention to it. We can thank it for trying to keep us safe, and keep mov- ing toward our goals. The people we admire for being fearless are not. They are just good at managing their fears and keeping them at a distance.
Most people play it safe for fear of ridicule, failure and shame. This is a creativity and innovation killer. It is a travesty in the workplace because we are cheated out of wonderful ideas from employees who do not have the courage to take risks. Furthermore, those who go to Ivy League schools may not have the courage to take a challenging math or science course because of the fear of not having a perfect grade, cheating the world of their brilliance. As a culture, when we use shame to motivate, either in the workplace, school, family or even in The Biggest Loser show, it may work temporarily, but will eventually ham- per willingness to take the risk to do something truly courageous and mean- ingful. The same goes for our children. As parents, we may want to stop emphasizing achievement as the marker of self worth. They need to know they are special, win or lose. That way they will not fear failure and always be will- ing to take risks and know whatever the outcome, they are still worthwhile. We need to be proud of them for just showing up and willing to take risks.
Our core beliefs can also hinder us from being courageous. When I first started my business, I struggled with my belief about myself that I couldn’t speak in public. How was I going to get my message out there? I had to acknowledge the fear and do it anyway. My first “mindfulness” group was in my basement with six friends. I remember not being able to eat beforehand because I was so nervous (and nauseous).
The first ten minutes were awful and I’m sure my voice was shaky. What was I so afraid of? What would they think of me? That was my ego talking, the inner critic who always second guesses. When I stopped worrying about what others thought of me, and focused on getting my message out there, I was at ease. Just because I haven’t done it before, didn’t mean I wasn’t capable. It wasn’t easy, and still isn’t, but each time it gets easier. It also doesn’t hurt that I begin the workshops with a meditation!
Political candidates and public figures are no different. It is courageous to put yourself out there and subject yourself to endless criticism. Every- thing you’ve ever done gets rehashed, and people are always there to watch you fall.
Now with social media, people can be exceptionally cruel and more anonymous. It takes tremendous courage to stand up for what you believe and make changes. Maybe we can all think about that the next time we attack a candidate with whom we don’t agree. The courage is showing up and playing the game.
I will leave you with part of Theodore Roosevelt’s speech from The Man in the Arena that perfectly describes true courage.
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
Jodi Baretz, LCSW, CHHC is a psychotherapist and holistic health coach at The Center for Health and Healing in Mt. Kisco. She specializes in helping busy men and women reduce stress and anxiety using mindfulness and meditation. Jodi runs a Mindfulness Bootcamp group called “Mindful is the New Skinny,” and speaks to various groups, schools and organizations on the topic. Please visit www.jodibaretz.com.