My son started going to a jazz improvisation class a few months ago. ‘It’ll be fun,’ I assured him. Turns out he was pretty rattled after the first session. ‘There was no sheet music. There was nothing to follow. I had to improvise,’ he said.
I thought that was kind of obvious in the class name, but it still surprised him.
Neither of us knew what to expect. He was apprehensive.
He went anyway.
I watched him in the thrash of uncertainty as the instructor sang out a Miles Davis rhythm. The group had to sing it out loud and then find it on their instruments. Then they took turns stepping forward and improvising.
This wasn’t ‘fun’ in the usual sense of the word, not the first time. But he emerged feeling challenged, relieved and a little bit sick to his stomach.
This takes me back to my pre-kindergarten days. My father wanted to put me into a French-immersion summer school, not knowing a word of French. ‘You’ll meet new friends,’ he assured me. ‘And you go to the zoo. It’ll be fun.’ So I agreed.
The zoo was the deal-maker.
There was no zoo.
I remember hiding behind the piano, sobbing. Not only were there no penguins, I couldn’t understand anybody. Bum deal.
But like my son, I went back again, even if the first time was terrifying. In hindsight, my kid improvises jazz way better than I speak French….
The point is about courage.
Courage isn’t a feeling.
It’s not positive thinking.
Courage is an action. It’s a doing word.
It’s a daily practice – like learning an instrument or a language. The more you practice courage, the better you get.
Courage isn’t something you have before attempting something challenging. You do the thing, and in the doing – in the thrash – you generate the courage to keep going.
That’s right, you generate it.
You do this by questioning your thinking. We have about 70,000 thoughts every day – some profound, and some completely bonkers. Most are completely bonkers.
You may have noticed that when you’re practicing courage, the “you suck” thoughts get louder and more frequent. In fact, they pretty much take over.
Then you might start hustling for good-enoughness. Validate me. Like me. Tell me that I did a good job. Make me feel special and worthy.
Hustling for approval gives a can of Red Bull to the little organ grinder in your head. It starts churning out fear-based thinking at an even quicker speed.
So basically, I’m screwed, you’re thinking.
Try this: Recognise the “you suck” thought (or whatever your version is), and smile at it, thinking, “Thanks for your feedback.” Let it pass.
You’ll soon realise that there are positive, uplifting, encouraging thoughts mixed in with the bad apples. There are totally random ones too.
This noticing helps you to course correct.
Sometimes I sing Bob Marley in my head while I’m sorting through my mental pick n mix: “Every little thing is gonna be alright.”
It is alright – almost always. And when I did suck, it has never proven fatal.
Courage is about relating to ourselves differently. It is deciding that the thing you’re considering – public speaking, writing, skateboarding – is worth the risk. No one wants to sit on the sidelines of their own life, not really.
In my experience, fear (anxiety, stomach-churning, apprehension – or insert your own particular feeling here) is the other side of courage. They’re a pair. Like gin & tonic.
My 7-year-old daughter, who recently played her clarinet in her first ever concert, said she felt ‘nervo-cited’ before she went on stage.
That’s the best way I can describe feeling courage – being nervo-cited. Half terrified, half “I’ve got this.”
In my experience, the feeling of nervo-citement is usually a sign that you’re onto something. Stay on the path.
It’s worth it. And it gets easier every time…till you plateau and start again on a whole new level.
Keep going. You got this. Really.
Thanks for stopping by. I’m so glad you’re here. In my next subscriber-only newsletter (are you a subscriber?), you’ll read about how I hurled myself wa-hay out of my comfort zone by trying 5 Rhythms dancing. It wasn’t pretty. But I came out with some mind-bending learning. My somewhat weekly newsletters do not appear on my site or on social media. They’re a subscriber-only gift. Come and find out what happened when I got my running man on with a hundred other sweaty people.