I’ve been thinking about this quote by Emerson these past few days:
“Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”
Some may say it takes courage to start a new path. But the truth is, courage sometimes is secondary to necessity. If someone MUST change their life, or if someone has NO choice but to find another way, courage is most likely not even part of the thought process.
The other day someone had read my book CANELA and now knew a bit more about my childhood. They shared with me that they thought it took a lot of “courage” for me to walk through the things I went through – but as much as I appreciated their sentiment, it just isn’t true. From my perspective, I did what I had to do. That’s very different.
It might make more sense if I put it this way:
To me, courage is an intentional act. You know what you’re about to step into – you can see the danger – but you dive into it anyways. A great example is a fireman who runs into a burning building. But when I look back on my life and the choices I made, there is not a moment in any of it that was a known danger to me at the time. I wasn’t planning to walk into anything, I just found myself in a circumstance and made choices to get out.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, who wrote that quote, was a philosopher and a poet, and he really believed in “individualism”. He wrote an entire essay called “Self Reliance” – and although I can’t say I agree with everything he wrote or believed in, I do believe that some things we see as courage, are actually just part of being self-reliant. And when you are self-reliant, you take responsibility for all your choices. One definition for self-reliant is:
1. dependent on one’s own powers and resources rather than those of others
And that’s why people think things I’ve done are “courageous”. Not because they were necessarily like a fireman who walks into a burning building to save someone – but because no matter what I did, no matter what choices I make even today, and no matter the reason – I take complete responsibility for all of it. Especially when I fail. I rarely blame anyone else for my failings. I always look at my personal failures and try and see how I can do better next time. And, for the record, I fail a lot! I mean, a lot – a lot.
Simply, when you have to make a decision, you just do it. If the choices are death and this other scary option, then I will always choose the “scary option“! I will take all the precautions I can to try and control the outcome as much as possible, but it doesn’t always work. Either way, in the research, in the “trying to know as much as possible”, even if you fail, the blow – the rejection – the downfall, is never as hard as you think. You can always get back up! But you have to learn to see it as just part of your life’s journey… If you can learn to self-reflect, see what you did wrong, and just try again with all the new information – you will always find a win!
Don’t get me wrong, failure to me, is painful. However, failure – especially colossal failure – also always provides another opportunity!
I look at it this way – as a kid, if every time I danced and missed a leap and fell to the floor, scabbing my knee, I decided to just stay on the ground and chose not to get back up – I’d still be sitting on a gym floor somewhere in Boston rotting away from the tender age of four! I mean, when we physically fall and hurt ourselves, we get back up. It’s the same for me every time I fail in life. I just get back up and try again. And I’m relentless. Eventually, I learn what I need to learn, and then, I win.
So, it doesn’t take courage to find a new path. For me, it’s always been about necessity.
2 thoughts on “Courage Ain’t It”
This reminds me of one of my favorite poets, Robert Frost.
The Road Not Taken. (See: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44272/the-road-not-taken)
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood . . .
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
Sometimes the choice is based on necessity. Other times it can be a gut feeling that may look “courageous” to an on-looker not familiar with roads we face . . .
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I know this piece well! Thank you. I think a gut instinct, for those of us who listen, generally is a necessity. We’re on the same page for sure. 🙂
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