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How To Be Brave When You’re Off The Beaten Path

Helen Keller once said, “We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.” I would amend that state­ment to include “and if we never got off the beaten path.”

If we try, we can remem­ber our own past brav­ery as a way to help us feel more coura­geous as we con­tem­plate step­ping onto the road less taken.

Some­times, though, when we look back on our life, we can only remem­ber the times things didn’t work out. And those mem­o­ries can get in the way of choos­ing to be brave today.

We say to our­selves: Things went wrong in the past, what if things go wrong again?

Things haven’t always worked out great for me. When I returned from Mex­ico after work­ing with Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders, I had no job wait­ing for me. My hus­band wasn’t work­ing and we had used up all of our savings.

As soon as I got back to the States I applied for every job in the nurs­ing field I could find — even jobs that were way below my level of exper­tise (and for­mer earn­ings). I went 2 months before I received a job offer.

The job was as a com­mu­nity health nurse. It would have required work­ing 5 days a week, with very lit­tle time involved in actual patient care because it required a lot of travel and paperwork.

I knew I needed the income but when offered the posi­tion, I just couldn’t accept it. Every fiber of my being knew that I would be mis­er­able at that job. I thanked the nurse man­ager but declined the offer, hung up the phone, and BURST into tears.

I felt cursed by the warn­ings of my father and so many well-meaning oth­ers who had told me that I was fool­ish for quit­ting my good job to take a vol­un­teer posi­tion in Mex­ico, and that I was crazy to think that I could find an even bet­ter job on my return.

All that is to say that I am famil­iar with the demons of grief, anx­i­ety, self-doubt and despair that can haunt you when you get off the beaten path. Very familiar.

My leaps of faith and acts of brav­ery haven’t always worked out exactly the way I had hoped. In fact they’ve often found me down on my knees in despair ask­ing God how I could have been brought this far to fail.

Another month after that “down on my knees” dark place, I did get my dream job, work­ing as a nurse-midwife for a busy hospital-based birthing cen­ter that cares for pre­dom­i­nantly Latina patients — work­ing 24 hours a week for more pay than I made work­ing 50–60 hours a week in my for­mer mid­wifery position.

I worked that job hap­pily for 8 years before I decided that it was time to leave it for my next leap — where you find me today.

And, yes, one year after quit­ting that job, this par­tic­u­lar leap hasn’t worked out exactly the way I hoped either.

My expe­ri­ence of the road less taken has not always been filled with bright sun­shine and frol­ick­ing uni­corns. And yet, when I finally stopped fight­ing the ques­tions and the doubts and the fears and allowed myself to sim­ply be sad or con­fused, I real­ized that every­thing actu­ally was okay.

Even when things are not at all the way I want and expect them to be, they are still okay.

“Things are still okay”? What does that mean?

What it means to me is that I can focus on what I am doing and-most impor­tantly–how I am doing it, and then I can let go of need­ing to con­trol, or even worry about, the outcome.

I have sur­vived fail­ures before, and I will sur­vive them again.

And I prac­tice remem­ber­ing that things always get bet­ter, eventually.

As a char­ac­ter says in Kate DiCamillo’s children’s story, The Tale of Des­pereux, there are many won­der­ful things out there to be afraid of. But your regrets about the past or wor­ries about the future prob­a­bly don’t make the grade.

In these instances, rec­og­niz­ing your fears for what they are-stories about the past that might not now apply, or sto­ries about the future that might never come true-will help.

The Brazil­ian writer Paulo Coelho has said, “Every­thing will be all right in the end. If it’s not, then it’s not the end. I’ve con­tem­plated that quote enough in good times that it helps me to keep putting one foot in front of the other when things get tough off the beaten path.

What about you? What helps you feel brave as you travel the road less taken? Please share your chal­lenges and tri­umphs in the comments!

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