Inside me is a dainty, feminine, frilly, floral print coward. She flails and flaps her hands and squeals like a little girl. She's a total ninny and I hate her guts. No matter what I do, I feel like she's the real me, waiting to get rescued by some dude on a white horse. I'm on an endless mission to try to find the secret of courage, hoping that one day, something scary will happen and I'll finally feel brave enough. I'll be able to rescue myself.
I've taken self-defense classes. I've escaped a rear chokehold and I've fallen on the ground, bounced up, and fought back. I've been attacked by strangers on the street more than once and I've lived to tell the tale. I've put out open flames with a fire extinguisher. I've been first on the scene when someone had a stroke, on two separate occasions. I've chased down a toddler who was about to run into the street. Still, I don't feel brave.
I've hiked into the wilderness, with nothing but the food and gear on my back, no cell phone reception, at least a full day's hike from civilization. My husband was there, though, so I don't feel like that counts. It's like being a Disney princess and only succeeding with the help of some talking animals. Technically, my husband is a talking animal, just one with extremely advanced mathematical skills. Nothing I do is really brave when I have him there to back me up.
I've waded through mud, climbed a rope, crawled under barbed wire, and jumped over open flames. Emergency responders were standing by, though, so I don't feel like that counts. I knew I could quit. I didn't, but I knew I could. It was only a dress rehearsal.
I've encountered a bobcat, coyotes, a six-foot snake, and a raccoon that came up and patted me on the elbow. I've been stung by stinging nettle and bit by a fire ant. Still, I don't feel like I know what I'm doing because I've never seen a bear or a mountain lion. Not that I want to. I'm just a lacy little piece of long pork, after all.
I ran a marathon. I got passed by a blind runner and a para-athlete with a colostomy bag, though, so I don't feel like it counts. That was two years ago. I don't feel like I can keep calling myself a "marathon runner" until I start training for another race.
I've spoken before an audience of three hundred people. I once translated "We are the Champions" into Latin and sang it to a live audience, if you can call what I do singing. Whenever I perform in public, I feel like they're obligated to clap and that they'd applaud no matter what I did. It's not like they bought tickets just to see me.
I self-published a book. It's sold copies in multiple countries on at least three continents, every month since I put it out. Still I don't feel like a "real writer." Anyone can do what I did. It wasn't that hard and it didn't take that long. It's not like I made it to the New York Times bestseller list.
I've done karaoke. I've ridden a mechanical bull. I've been on the TV news. I've marched in a parade. I've been sea kayaking. I've bought train tickets in a foreign language. None of those things count in my mind because I've already done them. I remember what it was like. There's nothing unexpected or frightening in my memories. I know the outcome, and it was fine. Not impressive, not all that dramatic, but fine. I didn't die, anyway.
When I talk about various things I've done, they seem like minor bullet points. I've never been kidnapped or held hostage. I've never been in a burning building. I've never saved anyone's life. Well, I don't think I have, not directly anyway. I've never broken a bone or had a concussion. I don't have any dramatic scars. I don't even have a tattoo, partly because my attention span is too short and partly because I have such a low pain threshold. Nothing I've done impresses me, so why would it impress anyone else? I always find other people's stories more interesting. When I share my own stories, I feel like a big faker. I'm only an imitation badass, because I know how frail and puny I am on the inside.
The truth is that if you're not scared, it wasn't brave. Courage lies in doing something despite the fear. Courage is acting against your impulses to hide and protect yourself, and doing the right thing anyway. Real courage is more about things like standing up for someone else and sticking to your convictions, even when the consensus is against you. Jumping over open flames or calling for help when someone collapses in front of you? Those are no big deal, because nothing is really at risk.
We're really brave when we're vulnerable. We're brave when we apologize. We're brave when we take emotional risks, not just physical challenges. We're brave when we reach out and open our hearts to people, even when we're afraid we'll be rejected. Being a badass shouldn't mean being bad, and it also shouldn't mean being an ass. There is strength in perseverance and determination, and there is also strength in being receptive and flexible. True strength and courage lie in upholding our own values, living up to our best selves at the times when it feels the most difficult.
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.