The Courage to be Yourself

In a recent classroom activity, when asked what constituted bravery, most of my middle schoolers answered with some version of ‘doing the thing that no one else will do.’ This included jumping off cliffs, skydiving, and other truly foolhardy adventures. If you are a skydiving cliff jumper, I mean no offense. I just think there are other forms of bravery less likely to make me vomit.

As a devout fan of the Venn diagram, one of my favorite books is a Venn diagram collection of ideas for living a good life (Jessica Hagy, How to be interesting in 10 simple steps). Her illustrations depict various tasks and challenges designed to remind us that our life is our life, not someone else’s. We know that, but all too often we don’t choose to actually live that.

Hagy’s passage on bravery: “Bravery is needed to have contrary opinions and to take unexpected paths.” As the quality of life increases, so renders her diagram, the amount of fear decreases. I really, exponentially like that. This doesn’t mean the cliff diver is brave just because they take an unexpected path. I’m quite sure it’s great fun, but my lack of a desire to plummet and experience the Earth’s gravitational pull in a very real way does not make me a coward. However, I enjoy the whole ‘contrary opinions and unexpected paths’ notion.

I am an abundantly uncool person. I have too much energy combined with too little desire to hang around water coolers and talk about other people. I don’t generally go out to clubs. Sorry if I’ve disappointed you, but there it is. One of my acquaintances tends to ask, “Do you, like, have plans this weekend?” as if my potential negative answer is a reason to pity me. I can’t summon the energy to worry about it overmuch, because I’m perpetually looking forward to pursuing any one of my skabillion interests.

In one sense, though, this makes me brave. I live unabashedly happy in my skin, and I don’t apologize for being who I am. Occasionally, I feel like an ostrich in a field of swans until I remember that I love ostriches and swans are simply pretty.

There are days where I annoy the living daylights out of myself. Wouldn’t it be easier to blend in, to follow someone else’s lead? Probably, but that’s how lemmings jump off cliffs and we’ve already established I’m not a cliff jumper. I am convinced that ‘doing the thing no one else will do’ most assuredly includes being myself. Living out loud as a self-fulfilling person is pretty brave. Not cool, often annoying, but most definitely brave.

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