Bravery is more important than success

Why I chose bravery over success

When I chose three words to define how I wanted to feel at the end of the year, what first came to mind was FOCUSED, COMMITTED and SUCCESFUL.

After reflecting for a few days, I changed SUCCESSFUL to BRAVE.

As a writer and a small business owner, being successful is a very desirable outcome. Bills need to be paid, after all, and toiling in obscurity with words and stories for months on end, gets a little old.

But I can’t control how my efforts are received. The only things I can control are the steady and passionate commitment to pursue my dreams and the hard work I put into making them happen.

External versus internal goals

When it comes to external goals I am determined and persistent. I will exceed company’s targets as a corporate executive, turn high quality freelance projects by or before its deadline, and create and teach excellent classes, come hell or high water. But I have more trouble sticking to internal goals. (Don’t we all?)

Some of this trouble comes from trying to achieve too many things at once. Hence the need for being more focused.

But a lot of it comes from fear and insecurity. Fear to fall flat on my face when I take a risk with something new. Insecurity that plagues me when I am rejected, because my inner critic immediately starts whispering: “What did you expect? You’re just not good enough!”

This knee-jerk reaction stalled my writing career a few years ago, when I sent a collection of short stories to a few publishing houses in Spain and nobody wanted to publish it. Mind you, I received handwritten notes from three of the most respected publishers in the industry telling me that the book was good, but short stories didn’t sell and did I have a novel? Because they would like to see it.

Many an aspiring author would have gone back to her desk and started writing her butt off to produce a novel. But I got hung up on the “no” part.

Fearing that I would not be able to pull off a novel and terrified of the time investment it required without guaranteed success (did I mention that bills need to be paid?), I didn’t even try to write it.

I wish I knew at the time about the many accomplished people who got rejected hundreds of times and still had the guts to keep going.

Conquering bravery

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve taken very big risks in my life. In fact, when a higher-up at a previous job made a blanket judgment that editors don’t like change because they are scared to take risks, I was annoyed.

“Don’t ever tell that to an immigrant!” I grumbled to myself. “Anybody who’s left country, language, family and friends behind, and started elsewhere from scratch, has taken a bigger risk than most people will ever take,” I huffed and puffed in my imaginary dialogue with the oblivious offender.

But here is what makes being brave so hard: Bravery needs to be conquered every single day. It’s not a medal that you win and you pin to your suit’s lapel, and from then on colors everything you do. It’s a conscious effort to overcome your self-doubt, your lackluster commitment, and your hurt feelings on a daily basis.

The many shapes of bravery

Bravery can take many shapes. Here are some shapes that it’s taking for me right now:

  • Bravery is baring my soul in a post.
  • Bravery is launching a business without knowing if I’ll make it.
  • Bravery is writing because I believe I have something to say, even if I’m not sure my book will ever get published.
  • Bravery is showing my true self in everything I do, because that opens me up to criticism where it hurts the most.

Do I want to be successful? Have my books published, my posts hearted, my business booming, my relationships thriving and my bank account padded enough that I don’t need to fret about the next emergency? Of course I do. But if you daydream too much about success you may dampen your resolve. Every setback moves the Promised Land further into the horizon, and every criticism reinforces your indecision.

You have to focus on what really matters to you, and invest every ounce of your being into tackling it.

I may never win the Nobel Prize, but I will:

  • Write as well as I can
  • Work as hard as I can
  • Learn as much as I can

And if all this effort fails to pay the bills (you knew that had to show up again, because being brave doesn’t exclude being realistic) I will pivot. I will find new strategies to do what matters most to me and contributes the most to those around me.

Bravery is a choice

You can choose to be brave. You can strive to confront your fears. You can learn to embrace change and uncertainty. It can be something huge like moving to a different country, or quitting a blah relationship. Or something small, like writing a Facebook update that comes from the heart.

How are you choosing to be brave today?

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