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The bravest thing I’ve done this year.

Friday, April 3, 2015 by Marianne Elliott

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A year ago I applied for a job.

It wasn’t any ordinary job. It was a start-up with an ambitious social goal — to transform the distribution of political power in our country. I would be building, shaping and launching a new online community where New Zealanders could come together to take collective social and political action for progressive social change. This was a chance to take all the skills I had developed over the past decade and put them to work for massive, potentially transformative social change in my country. It was a no-brainer. When I got the offer, I took the job.

The same day I was offered the role, my partner left his job to focus entirely on our restaurant and organic food business which was in urgent need of some attention.

My new position was supposed to come with a salary, which was why my partner felt okay about leaving his job. But for the first three months after I started work, I couldn’t access the funds that were allocated to pay my salary, and by the time those funds came through I needed them all to pay the team I had hired, and the people I had contracted to build the platform. Meanwhile, I’d set aside my other teaching, writing and coaching work to focus on this new role — which I was working on 12-14 hours a day, seven days a week.

In other words, for about six months last year we had no income.

At first it was okay. We had some savings, so we used them up first. Then we filled up our credit cards. Then we drew down on our home mortgage to live. Always with the promise of the funds coming through soon. Soon. Any day now I’d have the money to pay myself.

It’s an endless game of moving targets that any startup founder will know very well. You keep moving the debts and whatever money you have around from one place to another, giving the illusion that you are not teetering on the edge. All the while you know very well that you are not teetering on the edge, you are hanging over it, being held by your ankles. And still you don’t stop, you can’t stop because you believe in this thing you are building — you believe it might really help change things in your country — in the world. And because you don’t want to fail.

Then one day you wake up and realise you’ve reached the end of all your lines of credit, that the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle have settled into place and that the picture is not good.

But you think you might just be too tired to do anything about it.

Because for so many months, you’ve been running on the kind of chemicals our bodies produce when our animal brains think we might just die if we stop running. And if you stop running now, you think you might just collapse and never get up again. Every cell in your body is telling you to lie down. Every voice in your head is telling you to run away. And all you want is for someone else to come along and take over, to take responsibility for the mess you are in and fix it for you.

But you don’t lie down. And you don’t run away. And you know that the person who is going to save you from this mess is you. You are going to be your own Knight in Shining Armour. You are going to woman up, make a plan and take the first step.

Marianne Elliott - Courage

So that’s where I was on 1 January this year: Pulling on my big girl panties, trusting that I could and would make this thing work without destroying my health or ruining my family’s financial future. I was looking straight down the barrel of the thing that was scaring me the most — the possibility that they had picked the wrong person for the job and that I was about to fail spectacularly to pull off one of the most innovative and ambitious social experiments I’d ever been part of — and choosing to back myself.

I chose to back myself not because I was sure of myself, but despite the fact that I felt insecure, uncertain and afraid.

Because that’s what I’ve learned about courage. It doesn’t look like a comic book hero.

Courage doesn’t swoop in to save the day, head held high, muscles rippling, confidence oozing from every pore.

Courage is me finding the strength of my own back bone, right in the moment when I think the weight of my fears is about to crush me.

Courage is looking at the road ahead of me and almost bolting out the side door because it looks so long, so rocky, so hard – but not bolting.

Courage is looking at the mountain looming up above me, and trusting that as soon as I start climbing it, I’ll find it’s not as hard as I expected it to be, and that the views make the hard work more than worth it.

Courage is knowing that I might fail — that I might even fail spectacularly – and deciding to keep trying anyway.

So the bravest thing I did this past year was to wake up on January 1 and not hand in my resignation. The bravest thing I did this year was to back myself, to look at the mountain looming ahead of me and say ‘I reckon I can climb that, if I take it one step at a time, and have the right people on my team.’ But — and this is essential — if I don’t make it all the way to the top of the mountain, if the weather packs in and we have to turn back, or if we decide that the path that scoots around the side of the mountain serves our purposes just as well, or if the moment arrives when it becomes clear that there is someone else who can lead this team to the top better than I can — that’s okay too.

Because where’s the courage in trying to do something that you know for sure you can do?

Courage is choosing the road that is uncertain, untested — for us. Courage is knowing that there is a chance things won’t go the way we want or expect them to go, and choosing to act anyway.

So, tell me, what’s the bravest thing you’ve done in the past year?

Marianne Elliott - 30 Days of CourageToday marks the first day in a month-long special series on this blog. After a year of being fairly quiet here, I wanted to kick start the conversation again. And the topic I want to keep talking about is courage — because as I’ve said many times before — everything we’ll ever do in our lives that really matters will take courage. So from tomorrow, for about a month, I’ll be hosting guest writers on the topic of courage.

And, we’d love to have you join in by sharing the ways — big and small — that you see courage showing up in your daily life. Post a photo on Instagram, an update on Facebook or tweet with this hashtag: #mycourage. I’ll be following along and doing the same.

At the end the series we’ll be kicking off the next round of 30 Days of Courage. It’s a course for people who want step out of their comfort zone, through the small acts of daily bravery that add up to a courageous life. Registration is already open, just click HERE to sign up or get more details. 




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11 Responses to "The bravest thing I’ve done this year."

  1. Roxanne says:

    Just popping in to say how much I had missed your words — and how glad I am that you are writing in this space again, about courage and hardship and sacrifice and these non-profit lives and everything in between. xx

  2. Catharine says:

    Hi Marianne,
    So good to hear your “voice” again! I met you at Creative Joy 2013.

    The bravest thing I did this past year was to continue on our “year-away” plan with our 3 kids when 4 weeks before departure I landed in Emergency with a heart rate of 185, was subsequently diagnosed with an auto-immune disease (otherwise healthy before) and lost 20 lbs. The final crest of the challenge before departure was my hubbie deciding to unexpectedly, quit his job (main bread-winner at that time) 7 days before departure. At least I thought that was the final crest but just like hiking in the rockies, often once you reach what you thought was the summit, you can see more uphill 😉

    I felt brave proceeding with our departure but really the brave part was riding the storm waves of settling: my health, my hubbie’s transition to unempolyed-home-with-the-kids uncertainty and to some degree our kids emotional response to change. The latter I anticipated. The former was what I needed to dig deep for. Many times, I wanted to retreat but we are still “away” soaking up the beauty on the other side of challenge 🙂

  3. Tara says:

    thank you, thank you, thank you. I needed to hear this today.

  4. Debra Eve says:

    I remember us talking about your new job last summer in Taos. Can’t tell you how much this touched me. The bravest thing I’ve done this year is remove my toxic my mother from my life.

    After six months running my health and finances into the ground to help my mother after my step-father’s death, she accused me of mismanaging her finances (I actually went $5000 into debt for her). I waited for the anger to pass and in complete loving kindness told her that we needed to part ways.

    So happy to see you writing here again, Marianne! You remain one of my deepest inspirators.

    • Paula says:

      Debra, so sorry to read this about your mother, but so glad you are able to deal with it on your (courageous) terms.

      I also popped over to your website and love its new look (been awhile since I visited). Provides some inspiration for mine (still in baby shoes, as we say in Germany).

  5. Kate says:

    This time last year I was living and working overseas with my husband. In September he decided to end the marrage and I returned back to my home country pretty quickly. It meant quitting the best job I had ever had and leaving the people who were part of my life for those 2 years. Over summer I met someone and quickly found myself in a relationship again.

    Courage has been a theme all the way through the past year. I think the most defining time in terms of being true to myself and my needs was ending the summer relationship just recently. I had never been in a situation with someone where I ended it because I needed to be alone to process the past year and build my own relationship with myself. It went against every logic and social opinion in my head but my heart was aching for me to live my truth. Courage has been establishing healthy boundaries in my life and navigating through uncharted territory. Letting go of the opinions and fears I felt projected from others and prioritising my health and sanity.

  6. Julie Fiandt says:

    Thanks for such a beautiful and thoughtful post! I appreciate the concept that courage doesn’t look like a superhero, that it contains uncertainty and fear within it. If courage is more complex, it’s also deeper; I find that reassuring.

    The bravest thing I’ve done this year is to reclaim my identity as a writer, and to push past fear of visibility to start a blog.

    Thanks again.

  7. Marianne says:

    This year, as a 41 year old single woman with 7+ years of living solo under her belt, I moved in with my new partner and his 2 daughters. It’s a mountain that shares the hell out of me. But when I stop and look, I also love the views I am seeing. Thanks Marianne, from another Marianne!

  8. Paula says:

    I love this list of descriptions of courage. It’s a sub-theme for me this year as I learn to deal with some of my greatest fears: not knowing something, not being sure if I can do something or needing to ask for help with something. And I need it this year as I transition into my new livelihood as a sustainable land caretaker and developer and writer. I need to be brave to keep starting over new, and I’m learning that at 50 it takes a bit longer to absorb the new landscapes and logistics associated with a part of the world (northern California) that’s completely new to me. So thanks for the literary shot in the arm — your writing about courage is boosting my immunity to giving up too quickly.

    And I hope your financial boat has come to an even keel. Those are some of the trickiest (and scariest) challenges of all, I think. Wish I were close enough by to support you by eating at the restaurant. It sounds so lovely.

  9. Diana says:

    Hi Marianne

    Thank you so much for sharing this.
    It reads like a reality check to my own bravery which most of the times feels like cowardness -for I expect the dramatic movie themes in the background, the cheers and my bank account exploding with money. And if that doesn’t happen, I feel like a failure. The worst part however is not sharing this experience and make others see that bravery is mostly a quite riot and not a legendary Steve Jobs presentation of the iPhone.

    Thank you, Marianne!

  10. Paola says:

    Thank you so much for being back. I missed your words a lot. I have decided to re-enter the professional world after decades of being a SAHM. I am so scary but I know this is a huge courageous step on my journey.
    Thank you

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