What does courage mean, anyway?

Courage is a word that we often hear associated with people who save lives or are taking risks to change the world. It’s not a word you normally use to describe people who voluntarily turn their lives upside-down. A year and a half ago, my girlfriend used it in this different context.

We were sitting on her couch catching up after I moved into my sister’s place. My marriage had ended, my ex and I had sold our house and divided all our property. It was the loneliest and saddest and lost I had ever felt – and it was entirely my doing.

She carefully asked how I was coping. We sipped wine as I told her I was scared and had no idea what I was doing but deep down, something told me it might be the right thing. I said I felt felt horribly guilty for hurting someone I cared about.

“It took a lot of courage to do what you did.”

Pardon? 

There’s nothing courageous about breaking someone’s heart or choosing to walk away from a life that by all accounts, was relatively comfortable and happy by most people’s standards.

The definition of courage is the ability to do something you know is difficult or dangerous.

I’ve started to realize that perhaps she didn’t mean it took courage to break someone’s heart, or sell my house or eventually move out west later that summer – what really took courage was being true to myself. It just manifested itself in those actions.

There is courage in having the gonads to chase what you truly want. I was scared beyond belief when my marriage ended, when I sold my house and when I moved out west. I had no idea where I was going, what I was doing or where I’d end up. I just knew I needed to try. 

I also had to accept that happy by most people’s standards doesn’t necessarily equate to happiness for me. We each are responsible for defining and living our own happiness – whether what means a nomadic life of travelling around the world solo, settling down with kids mid-20s, climbing the corporate ladder at any expense or having a family later on.

A wise friend recently said he’d rather regret doing something than wake up one morning and
realized he hadn’t done anything at all. It’s a great way to look at things.

Too many people do what other people think is the right thing to do or don’t follow what they truly want for fear of rejection or perhaps hurting other people. I know this firsthand. The only thing more painful than hurting someone you care about it is lying to yourself.

A nurse studied and wrote about the top regrets of the dying a few years ago and the main sense of remorse was not having the courage to live a true life and not pursuing what made them happy. So, it appears I’m in good company, although thankfully I’m not dying – just yet anyway.

The difference between those folks on their death bed and me is that I’m chasing what I want to do now while I still have the time. I’ll learn from their mistakes and make the life happen that I want to live, instead of living the life everyone else thinks I should. 

If that makes me courageous, then so be it. Let’s be honest, I’ve been called way worse.

Was there a time you felt scared to make a big change? What inspired you to do it?

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