Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage ~ Anaïs Nin
The truth of this quote becomes more evident with each passing year. Courage is a topic I think about often lately. I’m not speaking of the kind of invincibility young adults feel, but of the fortitude to live an authentic life.
As a mother, I’m aware of the pressure my kids feel to conform – to meet the expectations of others. In response, I habitually counsel them to follow their own conscience, pursue their own dreams, and celebrate their unique spirit. Yet, in my own life, I often have difficulty adhering to those same edicts. Even at forty-something, it’s still “scary” to step outside the lines of “normal” despite my internal urge to do so.
And I don’t think I’m alone. Why? Because I hear whispers of internal restlessness in others when they are overwhelmed from over-committing to volunteer obligations, feel thoroughly dissatisfied by the state of their romantic relationship, are angered by the insensitivity of a friend, or are frustrated by an unfulfilling career. Most of these problems can be fixed, but it takes courage to say no to a friend who’s asking you to join another committee, to confront your lover and seek counseling, to speak up for yourself when you’ve been wronged, and to risk change by pursuing a new career.
Finding the mettle to make oneself vulnerable to the criticism and judgment of others by taking a different path or voicing an opinion, especially an unpopular one, is no easy feat. But I don’t want to waste whatever time I have left being inauthentic just to please others. It is, after all, my one and only life.
When I decided to try to write a romance novel, I didn’t tell anyone. I feared being snickered at (behind closed doors, of course), being unable to complete one, and so on. But the process excited me. I looked forward to time alone with my plot and characters. Upon completion, my sense of accomplishment was greater than any I’d previously known because, unlike my former academic and career achievements, writing that book was a long-held, deeply personal passion I’d finally pursued.
It doesn’t matter that I haven’t found an agent or publisher yet, or that I’m an amoeba in a sea of romance authors – I’m living my dream. And now I’m writing more, learning about social media, and putting myself “out there” on this blog. It’s simultaneously terrifying and thrilling. My life feels richer and fuller even though, by many measures, it hasn’t changed at all. This internal exhilaration is what I wish for my kids, my husband, and everyone else I love, to experience.
I think the key to living a “big” life has nothing to do with acquiring money, fame, or accolades from others. Living well simply requires understanding yourself and who you want to be, and then making life-choices based on that knowledge. Discovering yourself takes time and “quiet,” two things that are hard to find in modern life. But in the stillness of the night, when you aren’t quite asleep, let your dreams unfold and listen to what your heart is telling you to do. Stifle the fear holding you back and chase your passions (personal and professional). Even when you stumble, you won’t be sorry.