Having the Courage to Start

Having the Courage to Start Have you ever had something you were sure you were supposed to do, that kept nagging at you, and wouldn't go away?

Oh, you tried to ignore it. Maybe it seemed impossible. Or you didn't know where (or even how) to start.

Or people, people who were supposed to believe in you and be your champions, made you feel as though this thing, this burning desire you had was silly, childish, or impossible.

After so many years of hearing or feeling "You Can't," you really start to tell yourself "I Can't."

The problem with this, with this thing, whatever it is, and with you trying desperately to push it down, push it away, pretend it's nothing more than a silly idea, is that the more you do this, the more persistent it becomes.

Like a dumb puppy who keeps bringing back the stick, your dream, want, need, big or small, just won't let you alone.

It keeps you awake at night, it's in the back of your mind all day. As you go about your life, the life you're living right now, it shows up again and again to remind you that the life you have now isn't really the one you want.

It's the one you're living because you're supposed to.

You're supposed to because people are supposed to go to college, or get an office job, or get engaged, then married, then have kids. It's what you do to please those people who "want the best for you."

You know what "the best for you" in their eyes is? It's what they want for you. It doesn't matter if you want to balance on increasingly tiny platforms in the circus, or start a non-profit baking cupcakes to raise money, or be single. You're clearly not thinking about what's best for you, right?

So we live the life we think we're supposed to live, and when that persistent puppy comes back around we get mad at it and kick it away. We feel bad, because it's not the puppy's fault. The puppy doesn't know it's not what's best for us.

It can go on like this for a while. Sometimes we deny our dreams for years, a lifetime, even.

But for some of us, one day something happens, something changes. Maybe it's the customer that stomps on every last nerve. Maybe it's when she doesn't come home - again. Maybe you look around at your life, and you wonder who it is living it.Puppy

But on that day, one reason or a tangle of many reasons finally makes you pat the puppy on the head and pick up the stick. You realize that all along, the puppy was doing what's best for you, bringing that same stick over and over until you realize, "This stick is the very thing I've been missing all this time."

Because that little voice inside you, that gut feeling that you've been ignoring, is telling you something real. I'm not silly. I'm not impossible. I'm what you're supposed to be doing.

I'm what you're supposed to be.

On the day you realize this, you feel a lot of things: relieved, happy . . . panicked. Panicked because you've wasted so much time doing what you thought you were supposed to do, what "they" wanted you to do. Now there are so many years lost to drudgery, the wrong thing, the wrong path.

So, where do you start? Now that you know, it should be easy, right?


If you're like me, you instantly try to drag that puppy down the river of Denial and send it on it's way. You're scared, terrified. What if I screw it all up? Or worse, what if I'm fantastically successful? What if they are all right, and I'm throwing away stability, certainty, happiness, all for a silly and probably impossible (Shut up, puppy!) dream? What if I'm successful, and then screw it up? What if, what if...

When did it become so normal to doubt ourselves so much? All those motivational phrases - You can do it! You go, girl! You got this! - all those inspirational Facebook quotes with pretty watercolor backgrounds or grab 'em by the balls graphics . . . we see them, we read them, and we nod and say "That's it!" But then we make dinner, go to the game, work 2 hours of overtime, commute for 85 minutes, or a hundred other things and all the quotes in the world can't get us to change our minds. This is reality, we say. I don't live in Fantasyland.

The fear consumes us, the fear that the impossible dream is something we could do, there's just so much standing in our way.

So we do the same things we always do, a part of us turning angry, or bitter, or worse - indifferent. The fear, and the excuses it uses to make us do what it wants, wins.

To beat it, to tip your hat to the fear and pursue your dream anyway, many people believe they have to get rid of the fear. So all their time is consumed with trying to banish the fear, and they are still no closer to living their dreams. Because the truth is, the fear isn't going away.

It's like when you have to talk yourself into walking down a dark hallway as a kid. Or talk yourself into raising your hand in class. Or going on stage, or talking in front of people, or dealing with a fear of heights.

It's not that the fear goes away. It's that the fear is still there, and you do it anyway. You and the fear, you do it together, like a maniacal team out of a wacky movie. You're trying to talk the fear into it and the fear tries to talk you out of it, and while both of you are distracted:

  • You pick up the pen.
  • You open the door.
  • You grab the paintbrush.
  • You give notice, ask for a raise, apply for that new position.
  • You tell that person that you love them, or you want a divorce, or you forgive him.

Whatever step was necessary to begin that impossible dream, whatever tiny move you had to make to get the persistent puppy to trust you this time, you and the fear do together.

That's where having the courage to start begins.


Do you have a dream that scared you but kept showing up? Did you chase it or ignore it? I'd love to hear about it! Let me know in the comments.