What it truly means to be brave
When I left my first marriage, I was called brave. I heard the same when I left a job where I was comfortable and underpaid for a more lucrative and challenging opportunity. It’s meant as a compliment, yet when you’re female, brave is a loaded word.
Being a woman means being brave a lot of the time. If you pursue money and career success, you’re brave. If you leave a bad relationship, you’re brave. If you run for office, that’s also brave. If you post a photo with no makeup on, that is next level brave. If you wear a bikini that displays your stretch marks and saggy stomach, your bravery may well go viral and break the Internet.
Basically, if you stray from our culture’s ideals about women or chase any kind of dream, you’re brave. In this way, the bar is exceedingly low. And yet, often my acts of bravery are few and far between. I can go long stretches of time caught up in the tunnel vision of daily life and responsibilities, forgetting to think bigger than whether we’re out of milk or if I can get by on dry shampoo for one more day. Once in a while I pull back to ask myself bigger questions about my goals and dreams, but any plans for bold action are usually replaced by a death march through my to-do list. The problem with bravery, it turns out, is that you can’t be brave when you’re tired.
I know I’m not alone. Every woman I know is exhausted. Collectively, women are more tired than we’ve ever been. Between work, family, and emotional labor, we’re frantically paddling to keep our heads above water. Some of this is due to the unrealistic demands placed on us by society. Some of it is our own inability to look up from our to-do lists and grab a life preserver.
We put off doctor appointments, skip lunch, and otherwise cut corners in favor of taking the most efficient route to checking everything off our list. The problem with this is that we blow past all the fuel stations on the route while depleting ourselves along the way. We fall into bed each night with our tanks on empty and nothing real to show for it. Our fatigue gets the better of us and we default to doing the easy thing, which is often not the brave thing.
We clean out the closet instead of looking for a new job that will pay us what we’re worth. We fold laundry instead of running for school board. We clean out our inbox instead of writing a business plan to monetize the hobby everyone tells us we’re so skilled at. We tackle whatever task is right in front of us that offers a quick hit of the efficiency we’re so addicted to. We fall asleep feeling productive, but honestly, we haven’t accomplished a whole lot.
When I looked at what I was actually doing all day, I didn’t feel great about it. Sure, besides meticulously coloring inside the lines of my to-do list, I am also raising a tiny human, and that is important, gratifying work. But what about me? What bold actions am I taking to grow, to do good in the world, and to chase my dreams?
If you’ve read this far, I’m sorry to tell you I have no answers. As I search for them, though, I do know I won’t to find them in a pile of laundry or a trip to the grocery store. So, I’ve stopped looking there. The refrigerator is a little emptier these days, and the hamper a little fuller. It’s fine, though. No one goes hungry and no one’s socks smell too funky (I think). I’ve come to terms with the fact that I can’t have it all, and so I’m choosing big ambitions over a clean house. I take my inspiration from J.K. Rowling, who when asked how she raised a baby and found her calling writing Harry Potter, replied “I didn’t do housework for four years. I am not superwoman. Living in squalor was the answer.”
While my experiment with folding less laundry might not result in an internationally beloved novel, I’m committed to it. It’s not easy. I miss the high of checking thing off my to-do list, which now grows longer every day instead of shorter. That feeling, though, is just an illusion of productivity that yields nothing lasting. So, I’ll instead take my chances wrestling with big, hairy dreams that don’t have clear completion dates. I’ll wake up every day and try for brave instead of easy.
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