Small Brave Things

Two days ago I did a brave thing. It was small-scale brave, not heroic brave, the kind of bravery that is all but invisible to those who aren’t living it. I’d had a really long day after a really exhausting week. I had a writing social event on my calendar, but what I really wanted to do was curl up with my people and watch Stranger Things on Netflix. After dithering and delaying, I finally got up and went to be social. The thought which got me off the couch was remember that this is the year I plan to be courageous. I will do the small brave things that inch me closer to who I want to be and the life I want to have.

Yesterday I had a conversation with a young friend of mine who will be heading off to college in the fall. She has a long list of scary adulting tasks in front of her and has been struggling to make herself do them. They are the kind of tasks that once done, you wonder why on earth it was so hard to make yourself do it. Life is full of tasks like that, small but daunting. It is much easier to just sit still and not do them. The only way I can get myself moving on these sorts of tasks is to remember that the only way to get to the future I want is through the forest of small but daunting tasks.

I failed at a writer task this week. I had five months to write a short story. It took several of those months to come up with a concept that matched the anthology theme. Then for the past month I put that story on the top of my to do list. For days I sat on the couch feeling completely stopped, because I couldn’t make the top priority task move forward. Most times I couldn’t make myself open up the file. When I did open the file, writing words felt like trying to push a brick wall up a hill. I’ll grant that during those exact weeks I was also surrounded by a swirl of large-scale distractions: Howard was in the process of switching meds, we had a house problem that required a jackhammer to solve, a baby bird showed up and required care then died before we were able to get it to a rehabilitation facility, and then there was the usual amount of mental noise around running a house. All of that might help explain why I couldn’t get the story unstuck, but it didn’t make it any less of a failure. That sense of failure leaked out into everything else and I began to doubt my capabilities on several fronts.

Then yesterday I opened up a different story file, not the one I was supposed to be working on. That story was easy to tweak and fix. The words flowed and I liked the results. It showed me that I couldn’t move the story because the story was stuck rather than because I was a failure. So I did the small scary thing. I emailed the editor and told them I would not have a story for them after all. It is a sad outcome for my first invitation anthology. And yet, the process taught me skills which will be valuable. It required me to practice small bravery, and with each small bravery I get better at it. And I get a tiny step closer to who I want to be.

Today, for the first time in weeks, I was focused and productive. I blew through a dozen tasks which had felt daunting. That’s the trick with doing small brave things, they make the next thing feel a little less daunting. I ran out of steam by mid afternoon, but that is okay too. Tomorrow is Sunday and I will rest. Perhaps on Monday I can have another day where I move forward with energy and purpose, without fear. Or perhaps I’ll have a day where I need to be brave. I’ll manage whichever comes.