As I set up my calendar for the month, I select a quote I’ve found that speaks to me. I write it in my planner and leave space below it to capture phrases I hear or read that speak to me and relate to the quote. I found this practice centers me for the month, and helps me be more present in my conversations, meetings, and readings. For January 2022, the quote was “She was never quite ready. But she was brave. And the universe listens to brave.”
Several years ago, I provided change communications and speech writing support to retired Brigadier General Alison Hickey when she was Under Secretary of the Veterans Benefits Administration. At the start of each year, she’d personally write a moving email to her full staff of thousands about her word for the year. She put much thought into her word. She went into detail about why that word spoke to her. The chosen word set her intention for the year. Then, at the end of each year she’d send another email about how the word showed up over the past 12 months and what she learned from it. I was impressed by her openness and in awe of her public accountability on such a personal thing – how her year went in terms of her intention. It’s with her tradition in mind that I chose this quote on bravery to start the new year.
Some of the phrases I collected over the 31 days of January include:
- The wakefulness of the spirit
- The friction of being visible
- Spread your joy
- In a moment of ego we refuse to put down what we carry in order to open the door
- Never hide your green hair, people can see it anyway
- Being in a constant erosion of what is not essential
- The electricity of giving
- The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet
- There are no wrong turns, only unexpected paths
- Honor what you do not understand
- Cultivate stillness
- We often try on other skins rather than understand and care for our own
- The awakening and freeing of what has been asleep
- Enable and encourage
- Extraordinary is waiting quietly beneath the skin of all that is ordinary
- Dance, in all its forms, is theology lived
- Kindness has power if we not only believe in it but also live it into being
- So, what will you do today, knowing that you are one of the rarest forms of life to ever walk the Earth?
Having lived with this quote for a month, I saw brave in a new context. Historically, brave felt like a word for “the big stuff.” Like being brave when I learned about the tumor I had the size of a rugby ball. Like being brave when I stood over my mom watching her have a heart attack as I called 911. Like starting this blog—moving from ghost writing to putting my own words out into the world for acceptance or rejection.
What I’ve come to realize is that brave isn’t just the “big things” but it’s part of our everyday actions. Advocating for a minority voice in a meeting. Volunteering for a role you’ve never done. Asking a question in a large room filled with people. Starting a new job. Letting your hair go gray or wearing it natural. Learning a new language. Taking a new route to work. Trying a new hobby. Picking up an apple rather than chocolate to improve your health. Admitting you made a mistake. Seeking a second opinion. Leaving a relationship. Asking for help. Saying no. Saying yes.
Each time we step forward to honor ourselves and others that’s brave. Each brave step puts change in motion. And one change ripples into more and more and more change. Each small act of bravery builds your bravery muscle, and also helps grow it in others.
To me, bravery is a connector because you cannot be brave without exposing yourself to others. And it’s that exposure – that vulnerability – that truly makes meaningful change. When I emailed my client this week that I was the one who made the mistake in the content he reviewed, that act of bravery opened a connection around our love of grammar. When I accepted my trainer’s offer to use heavier weights, that act of bravery to move from 18 to 26 pounds gave me confidence in my body and a sense of power. When I told a group of coworkers that I’m white and can easily miss issues at work and need their help to be a better advocate, that act of bravery resulted in someone taking me aside to offer a great idea that I acted on.
Bravery is not in the big, but in the being. So, here’s to a year of more being: being open, being adventurous, being honest, being silly, being empathetic, being present, being kind, being trustworthy, being friendly. Here’s to bravely being you.