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There are two kinds of courage.
The first is fierce courage. This is the kind of courage that is immediately recognizable. A woman with fierce courage marches headlong into hard situations with bravery. She is a mountain climber. A marathon runner. An executive. A domestic CEO. She can white knuckle through fear, juggle an infinite amount of tasks, and maybe even do it with a little grace. Or worse, she makes it look easy. Women with fierce courage push through uncertainty and doubt because failure is not an option. The world loves this kind of courage: it is powerful. It is rewarded with promotions and wins, with respect and admiration.
The second kind of courage is harder to explain but my brilliant friend calls it soft courage. This kind of bravery is not as easy to see. It is quiet. A woman with soft courage stays vulnerable and honest and open even in the face of hard realities. She emotes. She hurts. She searches for and finds and speaks her truth. This woman is a painter. An intuitive. A crier at commercials. A nurturer. A woman with soft courage risks hurt and rejection in order to be true to her most natural self. She takes time to be present inside her body. She values her own truth above anyone else’s. She listens to herself. The world regards this soft courage as sentimental or worse, ignores it altogether. The woman with soft courage is often dismissed with an eye roll and a remark about how “She’s so sensitive.”
I believe I have and need both kinds of courage in me. I’ve done hard things with fierce bravery. I’ve pushed through fear and uncertainty and decided to just jump. I’ve been rewarded at work for my commitment to getting things done. I can burn through a to-do list like nobody’s business. I can juggle 27 things at one time and finish in 8 hours what most people wouldn’t tackle in a week. But there’s a cost to all of this “efficiency” – I’m never really in one place. Sure, I’m in a business meeting but I’m thinking about that dentist appointment or if the window cleaners showed up on time or how I need to write a check or text my sister or upload that photo. Sure I’m helping my daughter with her homework, but I’m also setting up that important conference call or responding to that email while adding that one thing to my work to do list. And at the end of the day I’m irritable and restless because I’ve used up all of my mental, emotional, and spiritual capacity on mundane tasks. It’s no wonder I’m exhausted all the time or just want to be left alone!
You want me to present to a room full of executives? No sweat. Take on a challenging new project at work? Sure. Attack a closet that is so overstuffed the doors are breaking? No problem. But I am reminded by the amazing women around me that I’m a human being, not a human doing. It takes far more courage for me to stop, take a moment, check in with myself, and figure out how the heck I am. And forget talk about my feelings in the moment. No, I’d much rather obsessively think about those feelings until I can squish them down into are neat little thoughts with beginnings and middles and ends and tell you that I’m all good and I am working through it, thankyouverymuch. So while I can effectively balance on my high heels, I am a big fat failure when it comes to balancing fierce and soft courage.
For me, this presents a huge paradox. I am so good at being efficient. I’ve received praise and respect for being effective at home and at work. But no matter how much I get done, the to-do list grows. No matter what I achieve, the anxiety never dims. Being fierce is celebrated but I get no joy from it. The soft courage, on the other hand, is not where I naturally gravitate. In order to tap into it, I have to bare witness to my own thoughts, feelings, and intuition. It’s also what my family needs of me – to be true to myself so that I can be honest with them. After all, my husband didn’t marry me because I’m a superior list maker. And my kids don’t care if their toy room is alphabetized or their outfits are color-coordinated. They all just want need me to be present. To be me. To BE. And that’s terrifying. But it’s in that terror that I find my truth. And my truth about any given situation is what leads me to peace. The paradox, then, is that I have to be terrified in order to find peace.
There is a time and place for both kinds of courage. We women encompass the fierce and the soft; we are mountain climbers and commercial criers. We are domestic CEOs and artists. It’s in the balance that we find joy.
I know lots of women who are naturally wired for fierce courage, like me. We won’t find our soft courage unless we create time and space and quiet to connect with it.
So how do we stay soft when the world calls us to be fierce? I asked another one of my beautiful soft courage friends how she does it. She said, “I’m a ball of smooshy-ness. I touch and smell things. I put stones and rosemary and lavender in my pocket. Lotions. Candles. Soft fabrics. I hold my own hands.”
For me all I have to do to stay tender is sit and watch the world. Breathe. Watch the world. Remember I’m a part of it. Right now. This day. And when I’m in that lovely moment of presence, I remember I’m not alone. I pray to the wide universe for the willingness to put down the tasks and to pick up peace. I pray for the strength to be afraid. For the soft courage to look within and see my truth.
And without fail, I get it.