Showing up in my social media feed a few weeks ago was a question that caught my attention.  “What advice would you give your younger self if you only had two words?”  Immediately, two words came to mind.

Be brave.

An odd pairing of words, I thought.  But the next few weeks made it clear why those words were so relevant to me.

A few days later over tacos and cocktails, I was talking to a friend about something I’ve always wanted to do.  She was silent and thought about what I’d said, and then she lit up with an answer.  She remembered a friend of hers who could guide me.  A day later, she emailed to say that her friend said I should reach out to her. I wrote back, saying I’d reach out to her that day.

And then I sat on the email for a week.

It took me five days to write her, drafting about forty versions of an email during that time.  I became emotionally paralyzed, wanting desperately to make a dream come true, but immobilized in a deep fear of asking for what I wanted.  The note I ultimately sent her was perhaps the most self-conscious thing I’ve ever written.

It went something like this:  “Dear friend of my friend.  I really want you to like me.  Will you like me if I pretend like I’m opening my heart, giving you a glimpse into my dream, while I’m really saying absolutely nothing?  Pretty please?? Thank you.  PS – I know you are busy and have a rich, full, successful life, so I really don’t want to ask anything of you.  You can write me back…or not.”

Just admitting that makes me feverish with vulnerability.  If vulnerability was an ongoing college course, then I have failed over and over again.  I wonder if it’s possible to get expelled from the college of life.

Be brave. 

I’m reminded of a lunch I had years ago with my parents and a friend of theirs, who commented on a bracelet I was wearing.  At the time, symbolic beaded gemstone bracelets — rose quartz stood for love, turquoise meant strength, and so on—were all the rage.  She commented on mine, and I proudly offered up details on the bracelet.

“It stands for courage,” I said.

She laughed at me, mocking the idea that a bracelet could hold super powers and making fun of me for needing courage from my jewelry.  I felt the flush of shame that I’d bought into the idea of what it meant, that I’d dared to wear it, that I spoke about it as if it were some truth etched in stone.

But the need to have audacity keeps coming back.

Be brave.  

At work last week, we had two full days of meetings.  The first day was an easy one, with lots of nice presentations on the state of our union.  The second, however, was an exercise in being exposed, defenseless against doing something new in which none of us were skilled.  Learning about the craft of storytelling, we each had a turn to speak in front of our peers, to practice being terribly bad at it and risk looking silly.

At one point, the trainer asked for volunteers to participate in an exercise.  No one raised their hands.  My boss, who was sitting directly behind me, called my name quietly and implored,  “come on.”

“Okay, okay,” I said as I got up.  I spoke out loud in a large room full of my peers, most of whom I see every day but don’t know very well.  The world didn’t end.  I wasn’t injured.  No one mocked me.  I learned it was okay to just try.

My boss would later would tell me she was impressed with my storytelling abilities. She would say I had much to offer.  She would say people had a lot to learn from me…and that I needed to use my voice more.

This moved me more than I could say.  But these are often the moments when the good girl filter has gone to sleep, when you are weary from a long day of trying to seem fearless, when really you just want to crawl into bed and hide under the covers—because someone has seen you and recognized you for the magnificent person that you have become.  This is uncomfortable.

My response to her compliment?

“REALLY???”  The doubt that is in my head I actually spoke out loud.

Sometimes we play small.  Sometimes the only thing in our way is the fear of what it would feel like to stand in the fullness of who we are.

Fear can keep you small, or fear can be a catalyst to asking for what you want in life.

Be brave.

A few days ago I had to have a difficult conversation with someone I’ve known for almost two decades.  Though I knew it was the right thing to do for me, I also knew the conversation was going to hurt this person’s feelings.

What amazes me is how we can continue for years in situations that we know aren’t right, and we stay in them anyway, because maybe people won’t like us anymore.  Because maybe needing something else means we’re selfish.  Because maybe we don’t really deserve better.

Enough of that.

I had the conversation.  It was uncomfortable and odd and probably more painful for me than the other person.  But I did it.  Life as I know it wasn’t shattered. There were no fits of rage, no explosions, no broken glass.   The conversation even ended with a hug.

For a few moments, I allowed myself to be vulnerable and ask for what I needed. For once, I was brave.

Perhaps that is a new beginning.  Perhaps courage and fear can travel the same path.  Perhaps they can lead the way.