“True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are. It requires you to be who you are.” –Dr. Brene Brown
In her book Braving the Wilderness, Dr. Brown describes belonging as the practice of believing in and belonging to yourself enough to “find sacredness in both being a part of something and standing alone in the wilderness.” To belong is, in this sense, a valiant act of courage. While sometimes it may mean doing the thing that we fear most, at other times, real courage means NOT doing (or thinking or supporting or saying) what others expect from us. This is the wilderness we bravely enter alone, despite the taunts, laughter, or wild wolves urging us to forego our own best inclinations.
Like happiness and other pursuits in self-growth, courage is an inside job. It doesn’t come from being pushed or pressured. From our first steps as toddlers (because what’s bolder than teetering on untrained feet?), we stand and move forward when we are ready. Author Glennon Doyle recalled a story about a woman who witnessed a family that was pressuring one of the children to jump off a cliff into the water. The pressure was relentless as they all yelled, “Jump! Jump!” The child’s internal struggle was palpable, and it bothered the woman deeply. In contrast, Doyle shared another parent-child story that felt very different. In this case, a young girl was heard expressing anxiety about “having to go on a roller coaster” at an upcoming park outing. The father replied, “Don’t forget, if you decide to go on the roller coaster tomorrow, that’s brave; but if you decide not to go on the roller coaster, that is brave, too.”
I, too, have experienced both sides of the courage coin. There have been some who tried to drown out my voice, make me feel small, and shut me down. If I had listened to them, you would not be reading this blog; nor would I be speaking or writing or sharing my love for Kabbalah with the world! But I did not choose them; I chose me–even though at times those voices seemed louder and more powerful than my own. I had a deep knowing, rooted in the connection with the Creator I have felt since childhood, that there was an unmet potential in me. And the only way I could ever hope to reveal it would be to turn up my own volume.
It didn’t happen all at once. For years I worked behind a desk, writing marketing copy to attract people to Kabbalah studies. Meanwhile, I longed to connect in a different way–to use my voice and my learning beyond marketing. I wanted to help others expand their consciousness, to help them find their own courage. Again, the naysayers told me I couldn’t do it. Even after I had begun to share my message, I was told to make myself smaller so that people would feel more comfortable around me. (I did that until I stopped being excited about waking up in the morning.) Now I am sharing through many different channels–and all because I chose what did and did not work for me, rather than allowing others’ lack of faith direct my actions.
According to Dr. Colin Torney at the University of Glasgow, “The challenge [lies] in evaluating personal beliefs when they contradict what others are doing.” His team’s research at University of Exeter showed that we humans are increasingly less reliant upon our own instincts and therefore more easily swayed by others’ thoughts and behaviors. A second study, led by Dr. Jens Krause at The University of Leeds, involved participants being asked to “wander” through a specified area. The results? It takes only 5% of a crowd to change the group’s direction. The other 95% will simply follow, without even realizing it.
When individual decisions take a back seat to the crowd’s, we forget who we are, which can be detrimental, even dangerous (we all know about peer pressure and angry mobs!). Being brave means listening to ourselves, rather than defining bravery by anyone else’s definition. As Doyle said, ‘Brave’ means living from the inside out. [It means] turning inward, feeling for the Knowing, and speaking it out loud.”
Kabbalah teaches that this “knowing” is a space we all can access. To reach it, we need to shut out the roar of the crowd, however large or small it may be. There lies the quiet, hidden center that is often elusive in our busy lives. Some think of it as the Creator’s wisdom speaking to and through us. Others call it our inner compass. By whatever name, when we listen to it, we know what’s right for us! We know whether to say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ whether to pause or change course or forge on. We know, even when that other voice–the one fed by the outside–makes us question and judge ourselves: “Don’t be a wimp,” it might say, or “What’s wrong with you? You’ll never belong if you don’t (or do)… ”
In his book High Performance Habits, Brendan Bruchard says that courage begins with “honoring the struggle.”Once we recognize that we are struggling with a decision, thought, or action, we can constructively process it. Here are a few steps for calling on your inner courage:
● Begin by silencing the outer voices (even if they are close by)
● Find your quiet center; tune into that inner “knowing”
● Ask what is truly best for all involved
● Listen for the answer, and act accordingly
That Universal guidance has led many to affect positive, even historic, change in the world. During WWII, medic Desmond Doss had refused to use weaponry, citing his strict religious adherence to the commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” When his unit was attacked on a hilltop, he refused to take the loss. Running unarmed through heavy fire, he rigged up a pulley-stretcher and lowered scores of injured men down to safety. His courage was both in the doing and in the NOT doing. He saved 75 lives without utilizing a weapon. (No wonder Doss was later awarded the medal of honor for his actions!) Countless others, too, have stood their ground against social, political, and personal pressures. Some have been shunned or punished. Yet all were and are heroes in their commitment to their own authenticity.
When our son Josh was born with Down Syndrome, there were people who suggested that I couldn’t handle his diagnosis and that, subsequently, I would not be able to parent him. I deserted those voices immediately. Instead of taking in that false narrative of what I could NOT do, I invested in a positive one. I focused on the potential I saw both in myself as a loving parent and in Josh as a productive, beautiful human in the world. My favorite sweatshirt reads, “Underestimate me, that will be fun. I encourage you to… it drives me.” In other words, I am a work in progress, as are each of us. And to do that work takes both courage and moxie!
A common precept in spiritual and religious circles is “Love your neighbor as yourself”… or, when switched, “Love yourself as your neighbor.” Because when we value our own views and truest desires, we belong first to ourselves. From here, we are able to act from a deeper, more authentic place.
So… only you can decide whether or not you want to ride that roller coaster, go for that career change, or jump off the dock. It matters less which way you decide to go. What matters most is that the decision–whether it inspires thunderous applause or utter silence–leads you closer to the best and most “you” version of YOU!