Building up courage, I’ve found, is a lot like working out a muscle. It helps if someone walks you through what happens after you work out. “Tomorrow you’ll be sore but a week from now you’ll like the gain.”
Just these past four weeks, I’ve had to step up and show courage in at least seven very tough conversations I’d just as soon not have had to have. If you are running a project or managing an organization, you may have three tough conversations before lunch many days.
We can’t avoid conflict and to handle conflict, we need courage.
(For the record five conversations led to positive results quickly but two blew up spectacularly. I’m still working through those.)
I found a chart I made back in 2015 that grades me from F to A+ on actions that help me see the recovery time I need from an act of courage. It’s been my best friend this past month.
My “courage workout” fundamentals:
1. Some days are better than others
2. I need to know my goal/purpose so I understand why I’m bothering with this uncomfortable process.
3. I get to be me and follow my dreams.
About #3….One coping mechanism I developed in life (for a variety of reasons) was to erase me and people-please in order to avoid conflict. Some people have too much of themselves inside of their ego. I do not, and that’s not good either. You want the right amount of you in you – not too much, not too little. In the end, erasing myself didn’t get me where I needed to go and didn’t avoid that much conflict. People-pleasing often made the conflict worse by surprising people when I eventually did reveal the gap between me and the other person. I was open to charges of changing the game on people because I didn’t know or share my boundary after the first couple violations. For me, #3 is still an act of faith many days, but I’m much, much better than I was 10 years ago!
So now…the GRADES
Situation: I must reset a relationship
C-F: I am not showing courage to be my best self. I am vulnerable to guilt & manipulation; I over-function. I am not sure why I’m rushing around to fill another person’s agenda but I sure do that – erasing myself and essentially letting them take over my brain.
B: I see myself over-functioning. I stop it by setting a boundary.
How? I spend about two days in prayer and meditation identifying exquisitely what I feel, what healing I need and who I want to be moving forward. This step can’t be rushed. I am deciding what neural networks to create. I want to get this right because I don’t want to do it a second time. I also don’t want to hurt the other person I’m setting a boundary with, even if they have hurt me. I don’t want to practice anything other than being my best self.
At my best, when setting a boundary, I want to be an adult who communicates to the other person what specific action I need next from them (knowing I may or may not get that action). I do not want to look for love in the wrong place. I usually do not share with the other person how s/he has hurt me because I don’t have faith that they can give me the healing for those wounds. I can get that healing some other day and some other way in places I trust actually do care if my feelings are hurt.
I set the boundary and brace myself for the blowback. Part of my preparations are to identify in advance how I want to respond to the blowback, including to not respond. Blowback is not pleasant but I have faith that the future will be better. In many cases the other person’s ego demands they throw up on me in some way – often a letter blasting me. But guess what- I can wash off the metaphorical throw up off my shoes. I can ask a friend to read that nasty-gram and say, “Is there anything in this note I need to respond to?” And if not, then I get to A- and A steps because that is in my best interest.
A-: I do B but to those steps I offer myself self-compassion
A+: I adjust (B and A-) AND am actually patient with my recovery time.
If I want to make an A+ and I take a pause to remember to be patient with my recovery time, that recovery takes less time and feels less painful.
Yes – this is hard work. Yes, the results are worth it. I get my life back and I get muscle memory about how sometimes things do work out well. I also show myself I am taking myself seriously. That leads to many good things!
“Life expands in proportion to one’s courage,” wrote Anais Nin. Courage makes all other virtues possible, wrote Aristotle. These statements are true. Life doesn’t usually get better for me in an instant but does eventually. Like all virtues, like all muscles, the more you understand how to care and strengthen them, the more practical you become in “recovery.”
Best wishes to you in all the places of your life you are muscling up so that your soul has the chance to be light and free.