There is no such thing as bravery; only degrees of fear’ John Wainwright

I have been thinking a lot about bravery this year. I always viewed bravery as the big decisions that you took in life. You decide to do something new, end a relationship, start a new one, change jobs, move to a new country, stand up for something you believe in. Being brave was singular, an event, so to speak. I thought that you made a brave decision and that was the hard part. You likely mulled over it, looked at the different options, fretted and finally you took that brave decision. It was done. Let’s move on.

Bravery is Seldom One Choice

How wrong I was. The frustrating thing about bravery is that it is not a static decision, it’s an ongoing way of being. Being brave is really the decision to be afraid. To leave the safety of where you are and move towards the uncertainty of where you are going. When you make a change in your life or stand up for what you believe in, the option to go backwards or retract your decision remains open. Because when we make a brave choice, it is easy to change our minds, to feel delayed fear over our decision. To lean into an easier option, to go back to the safety of the known. Making a brave choice is an event indeed but it is not an end, it is only ever a beginning. You can decide to be brave once or twice but the chances of lasting impact on your life are slim. When we make really brave choices, we still wake up tomorrow afraid. To make a brave choice into a brave reality, we must reaffirm that brave choice every day.

Bravery Walks Hand-in-Hand with Perseverance

Bravery within the VIA character strengths* falls under the virtue category of Courage. To be brave is to ‘face your challenges, threats, or difficulties’. One of the other character strengths within the virtue of Courage is perseverance. Perseverance is really about the ability to persist. To keep going even when it’s hard. Perseverance is a requirement for a brave life. Living a brave life is the combination of brave choices and the tenacity to go the distance.

Real Bravery is When There is No Certainty

The reason this has been on my mind is that people who know me often describe me as brave. I never really gave it much thought until recently but now I disagree somewhat. I think it may be true that I am becoming braver, but I don’t think I live in a static state of being brave. In hindsight, I spent a lot of my life being very prepared which has allowed me to make what looked like many brave decisions. I would call this calculated bravery. Real bravery is when there is no certainty and you do it anyway. Real bravery involves giving up control of outcomes. Real bravery is a choice to be afraid because if something does not make you afraid, by definition, you don’t need to be brave.

I was reminded of real bravery this week while watching Greta Thunberg. The brave decision she made last year to strike for climate change has been reaffirmed every day despite such adversity and continued pressure to stop from certain sections of society. Not only is she brave, she has also persevered. We don’t live in a society that encourages bravery, we live in one which supports conformity. While building our ability to be brave individually is a necessity to live our own definition of a good life, we also need to create a world that inspires and supports bravery in us all. Only when we all work to be a little braver individually will we become braver collectively.


Photo by Shane Stagner on Unsplash