I was watching a TV commercial about an organization that makes super hero capes for seriously ill children, to give them confidence and to help them feel empowered. What a great idea! When my eldest son was a kindergartener, I made him a cape with a big “J” on the front, for “Super Jesse”. He loved it.
Sometimes I wish I had a big, flowing cape that I could don when I feel a little less than adequate, and need to believe I have some kind of super powers or magic to get me through tough things. There have certainly been times when I felt pretty “un-brave”. There have been many days in my past when life and hardships were so trying that I felt paralyzed about taking any kind of action, and had no idea what to do. I felt completely broken. People would tell me how brave they thought I was, how strong and capable I appeared to them, but their perspective was quite odd to me. It seemed to have very little to do with what I felt about my own ability to cope with the pain, anger, fear and overwhelm that I often had as a young widow raising my family, dealing with numerous other losses, as well as with financial hardship.
Sure I functioned! I kept up appearances as much as possible and did the things I needed to do. I went through the motions. I performed my various roles, but I felt alone, afraid, and not very brave a good part of the time.
Now I know that I really was brave and strong. I just didn’t have the capacity to see it. I spent much of the time dwelling on my anxiety, and on what I felt I hadn’t done and couldn’t accomplish, instead of on my talents and the ways in which I was making a positive impact on the world. . Ernest Hemingway said, “The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places”.
I don’t believe in being inauthentic or fake, but I do believe that we have to constantly tell ourselves how and who we want to be. We then need to practice being brave, even when our legs are like jello as we step out in front of people, even when our hearts are racing and our old negative scripts are blasting evil things through a loudspeaker wired inside our heads. Practicing eventually turns into believing and into reality.
My cousin, Paul Arenson is a wonderful guy who has lived in Japan for decades, and is a teacher, singer, song writer, political activist and publisher of Tokyo Progressive (none of that is relevant to what I am going to say here, but I wanted to give him a shout out because I love him and see him so rarely that I don’t get to tell him how I feel). He once told me how he made a dish his mother used to make. I asked for the recipe way back before either of us had much experience with cooking. He gave me a list of ingredients and then said, mysteriously, “And then it comes into a gravy”. It seemed to me that there were a significant number of steps missing in his recipe, and it didn’t make any sense to me that these ingredients could simply morph themselves into a gravy without my doing something to cause that to happen. Sure enough he had left out some crucial steps, which I discovered when I tried to duplicate this dish. (It was some kind of dish with pasta and liver..Yuck…I would never eat it now and neither would Paul! I couldn’t find a picture of this dish with shells, so here’s one with another type of pasta…not that this is relevant either).
My point is that becoming brave and actually starting to feel that way, is a process, with many steps, as is cooking. Bravery doesn’t just happen because we have the basic ingredients. Life’s circumstances may present themselves like ingredients on our kitchen counter, waiting to be directed into the steps and actions that create the finished product, or the delicious result. They don’t stir and mix themselves. They don’t have brains that know whether the eggs and liquids go first, or the dry ingredients. Sometimes we are short on ingredients, or when we take them out of the refrigerator we find there is mold on the cheese, or maybe even bugs in the flour canister . We have to be resourceful and to search our cupboards for good substitutes to use when cooking, if we don’t have just what the recipe calls for. We can’t just throw up our hands in despair and frustration and not make the dish at all (while our kids go hungry, or perhaps order a pizza, instead). We have to improvise as best we can, using what we have. Our recipes will not always be successful, but the bravery is in the trying. We get better the more we do things. We get more brave. We become stronger cooks and bakers, and stronger people, even with our broken places. Broken places may leave us with scars, but they do heal.
The next time you don’t feel brave at all, go through the steps. Tell yourself you really are, or you would not have gotten through everything you have in the past. You would not have accomplished A, B and C, whatever they are. Give yourself the most positive messages you can, even when you don’t believe them. Keep saying these things. You are not a blaloney-thrower. Find a mantra to use regularly, such as “I am a brave and beautiful person”, or whatever helps you. Imagine your originally-designed Super Hero Cape. Visualize yourself wearing it, flying with it. Think about looking back over your past and recognizing or acknowledging your proudest milestones and landmarks. Fly quickly over the less positive ones, but know you are heading for a brave place in life, made stronger by the places where you fell, broke, or passed through with great difficulty.
Iris Arenson-Fuller, Certified Professional Coach, ACC (International Coach Federation Designation) is a Life Stage, Family, Relationship Changes Coach, and also a writer/poet, mother, grandmother, and former adoption agency director.
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