I’ve written about bravery before. It’s just a lot of me right now. It’s not “a lot of me” because I’m so overwhelmingly brave, but because as more time goes on, I realize I’m not as brave as I think I am and not as brave as I’ve always wanted to be.
I’ve dreamed of being the girl who most people described with that powerful word: BRAVE.
The girl who was the first to dive in to the ocean.
The one unafraid of any wave that the ocean delivered.
The one that always said yes and could out run, out climb, out hike anyone, male or female around.
The one who could, as the world says, “play with the boys”.
I watch the Laura Enever’s who paddle into 30 foot waves and drop in without hesitation. I watch Beth Rodden who isn’t afraid of any level climb, even after one lead her to being kidnapped in far off countries. I see Carissa Moore with her passionate battles, the fierce Allyson Felix, Jordan Hasay, Sally Fitzgibbons a force to be reckon with, and so many more women that I watch endlessly push the limits of what woman are known to be able to do. I read books about women like Sheryl Sandberg, who push the limits of even women in the corporate world. It seems as though they barely even let that word fear within their vocabulary. I then beat myself up, “Why can they do it? What’s wrong with me?”
I remember the first time I realized that my bravery level wasn’t as high as I thought. I was at the top of the face of the rock. I had climbed up the back side that was relatively flat and easy to scramble. In order for us to climb the real side, we needed to set the top ropes from here, then repel down the front in order to be able to climb back up it again. Sure, we were all a little nervous, but the point of these sports is that nerve, that rush, that extreme push to the edge as we sat upon this rock that looked over a glassy blue lake in the mountains. I watched my friend as she bounced giggly down the front of the face and made it to the bottom down below. I hooked myself in, getting ready to do just the same.
But, I couldn’t do it.
I couldn’t even get up. It was as though my feet had fused to the top of this rock and everything in me froze. My heart slowed and became heavy beating in my ears. My eyes became foggy and tunneled around the edge of this gray jagged rock. The only thing my mind was telling me was this is too dangerous. The rope could break. Your feet could slip. Just don’t go. You’re safe right here.
That day…I let that win.
I climbed back down the flat face after 20 minutes of my friends trying to coax me to repel. This is the first time I remember this kind of fear that’s unstoppable and seems to stop all of you at the same time. I thought it was just a day. A little later, I decided to pick up surfing. The first day in, the waves pounded against my board as I tried to follow the directions of the many voices trying to show me to duck dive under the waves to avoid the brutal beating. One wave in particular threw me over the falls and threw me into the sand for only a few seconds, which always feels like hours when you’re under there. The wave passed and I immediatley rode a wave to shore and couldn’t get myself to stand back up and head out again from this place where my feet were planted firmly in the safe sand.
I’ve watched this come and go. I see when I climb mountains and take my hand and block the views that show just how towering the mountain is that we’re climbing, in fear that I’ll freeze up again. (Fear of fear? Is that even a thing?) I’ve had to stare at my feet and fingers only as I navigate my way up rock faces…Don’t ever look down. You’ll freeze again. I’ve had to sing my way through big waves to paddle out into the line up, just so that I won’t turn around and paddle all the way back to the safe shore.
I’m tired of being safe.
Many say we run off on adventures to escape. To escape the pressures of work, finances, self-discovery, broken relationships, and so much more. You see for me, adventures are when I can fully be me. The good, the bad, the ugly, and even now, the afraid. I can feel fully the heartache of those relationships that I said goodbye to. I can look clearly at the pieces of myself that I’d love to change. It’s apparent what my strengths are. My passion becomes brightly lit the clearest when I’m cruising through foreign streets, soaking up the way the city pauses and all of its residents rush to the cliff edge to watch the sunset as I nibble on my freshly made gelato. My heart heals the most when I’m alone giggling in endless fields of Irish clovers that roll on hills as far as the eyes can see. It becomes apparent that my walls I put up when I feel afraid weren’t meant to be how living fully is supposed to look when I am swimming in the Adriatic Sea avoiding the sea urchins below.
It seems as though in powerful waves, towering mountains, unknown lands, this is where I push myself the most. This is where my “safe” borders show their true colors. I see those borders hold me back from that feeling when you catch the perfect wave at sunset with dolphins along your side. I see it try and keep me from getting to the top where the most beautiful views are. I see it as the one place where I’m fully free from the pressures I put on myself to do it all perfectly.
With time, I see I want to push my limits. I go for more than I ever thought I could do. I don’t want to take on and claim my fear of heights as just a part of me. I want to keep pushing myself to conquer it. I may not be the Enever, Felix, Fitzgibbons, Rodden role models for other girls where I’ll tackle any thing with no second thoughts and will shatter records when I do.
I am Genieva though and I have my own influence to make.
This week, my third graders and I needed a break from long division lessons. We turned on a song, got in our dance circle and really had an old fashioned dance party. (As teachers, we call these brain breaks.) I was playing “Brave” by Sara Bareilles. I watched student after student enter the circle and do their own flair of a dance move without hesitation. When I looked around the room, I realized only one of my girls was brave enough to enter the circle and lead the way. It wasn’t until I entered and busted by best birdie move (Thanks to my brother for teaching me this move. 8 year olds love it) that more girls began to feel free to come in and lead the party.
Here is where it hit me… My influence is real. I have 21 students with 11 young girls who are looking for someone to admire and Monday through Friday 7:30-3:45, I am just that, whether I am ready for it or not. I may only be 4′ 10″, 100 pounds, and 26 years old in my head sometimes. I may be afraid of heights. I may have a little world stopping fear to conquer, but I will be something these ordinary girls can look up to. I will be brave in their classroom. I will tell them tales of climbing mountains, completely afraid, but able to conquer. I will show pictures of waves that explained my fears. I will tell stories of my travels alone and with others so they remember that one day when they feel silly booking a flight somewhere alone, they go anyways. This world is too beautiful not to see. I will show them an example that our fears of what others think of us are worthless. I will show them how to fall in love with themselves and one day fall in love with someone else. I want to push them to take the big job, even though they don’t feel qualified. I want to push them to want to lead any dance party that comes their way.
This is the legacy I want to leave.
In the words of my girl Bareilles who saves us from long division, “Say what you wanna say, let the words fall out…Honestly, I wanna see you be brave”
Oh little ones…I’m pushed to be brave for you.