The Courage to Feel
We are joining the courage renaissance, where vulnerability is celebrated for its authenticity and power
A Feminine Courage Renaissance…
I’ve always felt courageous. I’m the first born, an overachiever, hard-working, strong and (usually) confident woman. Courage is the wave I was always praised for riding, so I just kept on riding it. That’s why, when I was sexually assaulted by a stranger on my way home from a party in graduate school, I was really proud of the way I reacted. I fought and I screamed — I scared my attacker away. And then after the incident, despite strong suggestions to the contrary, I stayed in school and plowed my way through blinding anxiety and trauma lodging itself deep in my body. I shut down internally and didn’t admit what I was really feeling — to myself or to anyone around me. Because that’s what courage is, right?
Culture tells us courage has to be “big” — Society upholds a distinctly masculine narrative around courage. We are told that courageous acts are associated with external expressions of bravery and boldness, pushing ourselves to the limit and “pushing through.” It’s the moments of strength and resilience when we are commended for your courage by others (e.g. completing a marathon, starting a company or performing in front of an audience).
In this Dinner Confidential, women across the world (NYC, Miami, Toronto, Portland, Madrid and Caracas) and from a wide variety of ages (22–72) shared their stories of facing hard truths with raw honesty, allowing us to awaken to the “other” side of courage. Learning from all these women, gave us the feeling that we are ushering in a sort of courage renaissance, one in which our vulnerability is not ignored or suppressed but actually celebrated for its authentic power.
While “being courageous” is not a linear path, we uncovered a sort of “courage journey” that goes well beyond big action and big achievement.
The Courage Pyramid
- The courage instinct — We are all born with courage inside, it’s an evolutionary trait that lives deep within our bones. Inevitably, when life puts us in situations that require us to be brave (e.g. survival in a dangerous situation) this kind of courage kicks in. Besides enabling self-protection, our courage instinct allow us to support others. Many women talked about being strong for their family, kids, partners, and jobs. Yet, that doesn’t always translate into being courageous for themselves.
- Choosing courage requires faith — Most times however, life presents us with situations where courage is a choice, not something triggered by instinct. These situations often yield more time to ponder and analyze, allowing doubt and uncertainty to creep in (e.g. Should I quit my job? Should I tell this person how I really feel? Would I let others down doing if I do what I want?). It seems like in these moments, what enables us to make the jump is having faith. A deep-seated belief that this is what it’s required for us to live in integrity with ourselves.
- The courage to get real about what we need — and act accordingly — Many of the women around our tables are seasoned people-pleasers, masters in the arts of caring for others and seeking their approval, oftentimes at the expense of themselves. To deepening our “courage journey,” we need to be rooted in our integrity and self-confidence. Courage is about cultivating the self-awareness to creating honest and compassionate boundaries with ourselves and others (e.g. speaking up when we need to or asking for help when we need it). Rather than pretending things are okay and choosing not to face the music, courage demands both being honest with ourselves and then taking action. Ultimately, it seems the most courageous act is simply to be true to oneself (despite our self-doubt or fear of failure).
- There’s no courage without vulnerability– In a life full of uncertainties, there is tremendous courage in embracing these unknowns with openness and acceptance. It’s about finally providing ourselves permission to actually feel and share our feelings, however messy they may be. There’s a bizarre paradox here: sometimes it takes the most courage to be vulnerable with those closest to you (e.g. asking your husband to watch the kids so you can have time for yourself, telling your parents “no” when you feel obligated to say “yes,” or being truthful with a dear friend). Asking for support, voicing our needs and admitting our complicated feelings doesn’t feel courageous, especially when we’re supposed to be “strong” all the time. But how would we behave if we realized that our vulnerability holds the key to our most authentic courage yet?
Cultural Nuance: Venezuela
The conversation around courage in Venezuela was set within the complex political and socio-economic situation that is currently taking place in the country. Many of us living in safe/stable societies forget that in many parts of the world, the “instinct courage” is essentially a mode of survival. For these brave women, the simple act of living in a house alone amidst such violence and turmoil is an act of courage. And if the courage instinct were a muscle, these women continue to flex: they protest, they fight for their basic rights, they survive kidnappings — and continue to show up for their families and loved ones.
Next steps/ Things to experiment with…
Get real about what you need — The next time you feel your people pleasing tendencies creep in, challenge yourself to pause and ask yourself what you really need. How can you express your needs in an authentic and honest way (to yourself and others!), and then take the necessary steps to act on those needs?
Consider all of the courageous acts in your daily life — Removing the lens of courage = big, external shows of achievement, think about all the ways courage shows up in your life. Was it when you told your partner how you were feeling about something he/she said? Was it when you allowed yourself to feel your grief? Or maybe it was simply getting out of bed this morning?
Illustrations by zanda
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