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.
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?
Today 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.