To be Brave or to be Fearless

Once I told somebody that when I grow up I want to be fearless.

At the time I thought that I meant it. I believed that if I could just get out of my head and not worry about what others thought and not worry about what I thought that everything would get easier.

Since then I’ve thought more about the ideas of bravery and fearlessness.

I’ve realized that “fearless” and “brave” are very different. To be fearless can be reckless. To be fearless can mean that you don’t care – there is no thought of consequences. To be brave is scarier. To be brave means that you feel – that you care. You have thought through every eventuality and you have to push yourself to face the scary thing or do the scary thing because it matters so much. “Fearless” means acting for the sake of it. “Brave” means acting because you can’t imagine it any other way. There is a difference in intent – one is almost apathetic, while the other is rooted deeply in love.

In order to be brave you have to be aware of the things that scare you.

I can think of lots of things that scare me. There are the classics, of course: aliens, snakes, squeaky doors on stormy nights. Those are the things that make your adrenaline levels rise. But they pale in comparison to the really  scary things, the things that have more to do with feelings. Specifically one feeling – the one that forces you to be brave: love.

I am scared of losing my family. I am scared that I won’t be able to do what I love and that somewhere in life work will start to feel more like work and less like passion. I am scared that I am not enough for the people that I care about. I am scared of all of the ways in which love makes me vulnerable. I am scared by the beautiful feeling of total exposure, of heart-pounding, head-racing, breathlessness.

So I am not fearless. And I don’t want to be. If I were fearless I don’t think that I could appreciate the terrifying emotional spectrum of the human experience. If I were fearless I wouldn’t care so much about the people in my life.

Part of life is about being brave and reconciling our fears. So I want to be more than fearless. I want to be brave.

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