don't be fearless. be courageous


I don't feel like mincing words today so I'll come out and say it: fearlessness is bullshit.

I don't want to be fearless. And you shouldn't either.

There are many quotes plastered around places like Pinterest and splashed across notebook covers: statements such as, "Once you become fearless, life becomes limitless," and, "Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your heart on fire."

Sure, those quotes sound lovely. But they're just not logical.

I can certainly see why the concept of fearlessness appeals to the masses.

Being afraid is deeply uncomfortable. And it's not just uncomfortable mentally or emotionally. Fear grips you in a physical way. It triggers a physiological response that takes a toll on your body if it happens over an extended period of time.

But fear is a deeply human response, and a deeply necessary one.

Facing fear can feel so hard, almost insurmountable. 

But why are we here if not to do hard things?

You might feel less discomfort if you're fearless, but then you also feel less of everything.

Is that what you really want? To numb out?

Sometimes numbing can be an attractive thought because it makes approaching the world easier than having to encounter the hard parts of fully knowing and sharing yourself.

Checking out doesn't actually result in fulfillment, just emptiness.

Because fear is a physiological response as well as psychological one, it's not wholly possible anyway.

But somehow that doesn't keep fearlessness from being a compelling fantasy.

Fear and Courage: Inextricably Linked

The prevalence of raising fearlessness on a pedestal often conflates two very different concepts: fearlessness and acting in spite of fear.

Fearlessness is a lack of fear, so fearlessness cannot be the same as facing your fear. 

The very definition of courage is to do what frightens oneself. It is the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty.

You cannot be brave unless you are afraid.

Bravery is not banishing fear; it is acknowledging that you are scared and acting anyway, because you are in pursuit of an idea or project that you know feels right in your heart.

You have a choice: you can either be fearless or you can be courageous.

I know which one I would rather pick.

When you do something that you deeply want but that is outside of your existing boundaries, courage is often accompanied by the feelings of simultaneous excitement and slightly like you want to vomit.

Exhilarated but somewhat nauseous. Elated and terrified.

Despite what it seems like sometimes, fear is a good thing. It means you are on the right track.

Sometimes we think, "Well, I'm afraid, so clearly my fear is a sign I shouldn't do this," when in fact fear is one of the best indicators that we should go for it.

We can actually use fear to our advantage, because it's one of the easiest feelings to recognize when we're faced with making a big decision.

If you are nervous about an outcome, it means you care.

If you take a leap and mid-air instantly feel like you want to reverse your fall, you have made the right choice.

I don't think it's an accident that going for what you want without knowing the outcome is called a "leap of faith."

The feeling in the pit of the stomach is not unlike falling.

The Good and Awful Feelings of Truth Telling

When I write my deep truths or speak them without knowing the potential fallout, I feel vulnerable and raw. I feel like I want nothing more than to suck those words back into my mouth and lock them away in my chest.

But at that point, it's already too late.

Sometimes there is fallout. Sometimes there are repercussions for my vulnerability that sting.

Misunderstandings. Friends lost.

That is my greatest fear: to bare my soul and have my tender parts cast aside with indifference or false impressions.

I cannot confirm for sure, having only lived my own experience, but I think that's likely one of the biggest fears we all share.

Obviously, it can feel awful.

Rejection can be heartbreaking, so it's understandable why we seek to avoid it sometimes (even if facing the heartbreak would be in our own best interests).

More often, however, my own vulnerability results in greater intimacy with those around me.

The vulnerability of others I admire has given me the space and courage to speak my own fragile truths. And my own vulnerability has the same potential to help in turn.

I have had so many people come out of the woodwork to say my words have made an impression on them for the better.

To say that they have a changed perspective and appreciate my work.

To say that they are inspired to do their own work.

That does not make the process any less hard, but it does make it more rewarding.

I guarantee that no matter how pulled together someone looks from the outside, no matter how far along in their journey, that person still encounters fear as often as you do.

They just might choose courage in spite of fear more often.

Fear doesn't go away with success. The stakes just get higher.

I don't say that to scare you away. I say that because it's better to know than it is to have vague delusions of unattainable "fearlessness."

I say that to let you know that we are all just making it up as we go along. We are all just stumbling forward as best we can.

Hopefully our shared guesswork is a comforting prospect instead an disheartening one.

The Unavoidable Pull to Speak

At a certain point, there are some fragments of your self that call to be put into the world and do not let you ignore them any longer.

The more you listen to your own intuition, the louder and more persistent this calling is.

That calling is from your heart. And in fact, as you might know, heart is the original basis for courage:

“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor - the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant, 'To speak one's mind by telling all one's heart.'" — Brene Brown

Acting courageously is to act wholeheartedly. To put your whole heart into the world and on the line, even knowing what it might cost you.

Eventually, it gets more painful to hold the truths in than it does to express them outwardly.

There are certain words I have spoken or written that a part of me would have preferred I left unexpressed until my cremated, lifeless body goes up in smoke.

The thought of other people knowing my secrets makes me want to cringe.

But the thought of not giving others the chance to understand also makes me want to cringe.

That is the trade off.

You can choose fear or you can choose truth.

Choosing truth, by the way, is not the same as being fearless.

When you choose truth, you acknowledge that your fears exist and that they have the potential power to keep you silent. And then you speak up any way.

That is precisely what courage is.

Soften Into Trust

Exposing your deep, soft core from beneath layers of hardened exterior can feel excruciating.

It is an act of surrender, but it is also an act of the most potent strength.

There is a widespread fallacy that strength is about becoming increasingly hardened.

"Toughen up, buttercup."

Unless you have had strenuous psychological conditioning that is essential to your job, such as the training needed to be a military and CIA operative, harder does not equal stronger. And hardening yourself will not result in greater successes.

Strength is really a measurement of how well you face your fears and risk letting others see your fragile insides.

What can be stronger than exposing your tender underbelly of secrets and living to tell the tale?

At a certain point you must risk putting yourself out there before knowing whether you will be accepted.

Considering rejection is probably one of our biggest shared fears, it can only be considered strong to act regardless of how we will be seen or understood.

Strength is trusting that you will survive any outcome instead of going the easy route of hanging back.

Thankfully, the outcome of exposing ourselves often does result in positive reception.

But the strength is in not knowing if that will be the case beforehand.

A catch-22 if there ever was one: you have to be vulnerable to build trust, you have to trust to be vulnerable.

Do you want to learn how to get others to trust you? Trust them.

Do you want to be your strongest self? Be real. Be vulnerable.

It's not as easy as it sounds.

Facing fear might get easier over time and with more practice, but it is still never easy.

The difficulty of putting yourself out there despite feeling fearful will end up feeling "right," but that does not mean you won't still want to shy away from it.

Acknowledge and respect your fear. Recognize that your fear is a powerful force that is deeply ingrained in your psyche and your bones.

But also know that you can grant power to whatever part of you feels right, because fear is not the only powerful force you have.

You do not have a choice to keep yourself from feeling fear. Fearlessness is not an option.

But you do have a choice whether you act on fear and how.


Iris Rankin

Soulful questioner, exuberant organizer, here to find the balance between discipline and delicious relaxation. Iris Rankin is the founder of Project Intention, a values-based community focused on living day-to-day with purpose, planning, and heart. Iris encourages women to adopt the self care practices that make them feel divine, the planning tools to hone in on their essential wants and needs, and the emotional resilience to express their most authentic selves.

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