courage is a flame

“Those moments when I felt 100 percent sure about myself, my dreams and goals, no matter how many people showed doubt, was when all the magic happened. I always felt like I was fighting against something, like I wasn’t allowed to feel confident and strongly about my visions. But as tough as it was, these moments when I didn’t back down turned out to be the moments that made me who I am today.

Rosé, from Mastermind Magazine

There are ideas so magnetic that I’d be willing to be a fool for them. The ones where even if I make a fool of myself in the end, I at least proved to myself that I could end up on the stage wherein I am a fool.

The moments I’ve felt the most myself are when I acted with self-conviction, despite the world saying no. These are the moments where I’m able to test if my roots are planted firmly within the ground or if I sway easily in the wind.

When I think back to the decision to take a gap year, the idea of living in New York, and the conviction to transfer universities and switch majors, a spark re-ignites within. These magnetizing ideas are ones where even if I didn’t know the why, the how, or the wtf, intuition compelled me to investigate the thread and act upon it. Pick up the phone if courage calls — don’t let that idea be the one that got away.

Courage is like igniting a flame on one of those lighters. You know, the BIC ones with the mechanical scroll. An action potential, all-or-nothing. Either you carry out with the movement and the flame appears, or your finger slips and you can’t set it alight.

“Nature loves courage. You make the commitment and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up … This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it’s a feather bed.”

Terrence McKenna

The prologue to courage is when you’re standing at the precipice, looking into the abyss. Switch the illumination on, jump. Waver, and make acquaintance with the enveloping darkness and stale air.

All my best decisions in hindsight have been ones where I’m floating. I’m leaning forwards, plummeting into the abyss, only to discover in retrospect that I’ve fluttered onto a featherbed. Suspend your disbelief, and in turn be suspended by belief.

I used to always worry about people misunderstanding me. Why can’t they see my rationale? I think back to my decision to drop out of business school to switch universities and majors entirely, and how much I fought with my parents back then. I didn’t want to be written off as young and reckless by them.

What I didn’t realize at the time, was that trying to get their understanding was to impart some level of responsibility onto them for my decision. Seeking their approval was unfair to both them and I. It was an implicit transfer of agency if things didn’t go to plan, as in: “look, you also signed off on this”. In the end, you are the only person who can set alight the spark of courage, and be responsible for tending the fire.

Honestly, I would be lying if I didn’t consider tossing in the towel and staying on a path I despised. But I think there’s something crucial here.

To have a fire within you is good — don’t extinguish it. It means there is something you consider worthy of fighting for.

To have a fire within you is all you need to propel yourself forwards. Protect it and let it build to a bonfire of courage. Ignite a forest fire, one which clears the way for new sprouts.

Above all else, listen to and show up for yourself. You are the only person who can fight for you for your life’s entirety: attending office hours when you have no idea what’s going on, showing up to that dinner, saying hi first, self-advocacy at airline customer service counters after they delay a bazillion flights and you might not make your CS midterm.

I admire people with focus and tenacity. Their courage burns brightly in how they show up as themselves, take it or leave it. It’s not “I don’t care about what others think of me”, but “I care about what my loved ones think, and take sole responsibility for my life, still”. Quiet persistence speaks loudly.

Joan Didion, On Self-Respect

I’m most alive when I’m flying. I’m soaring after a leap of faith. There might be headwinds of uncertainty and a couple storms in the forecast, but all I can control is that I show up and stick through with the landing.

To take any leap is to build your self-respect. It’s vowing to yourself that you will listen to and execute on what you think is best for you. That you will give yourself the chance, even if no one else will. It’s affirming that you won’t hit the gas pedal with your eyes shut and fingers crossed.

I can’t say I’ve always been the most courageous person — it’s something I’m working towards. I want to be more focused and tenacious with my self-conviction. But the moments where I have taken those leaps of faith are the ones that have made me who I am today.

Anytime you’re presented with an idea so magnetic, a spark you can’t extinguish in your mind, is a trust fall with yourself. Are you willing to fall into the seeming abyss? Can you catch yourself in the end?

Here’s to more fucking around and finding out. Roll the dice.

Cover painting: Wanderer Above The Sea of Fog, Caspar David Friedrich

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