When I think of courage, a few key things usually pop into my mind: Joshua 1:9, facing my fears, standing up for what I believe in. You know, the standard things you learn growing up. But are there other types of courage?
The answer is obviously yes, but often times, a simple yes just isn’t good enough. Sometimes, you have to define it.
After my parents split, I jumped from the roles of daughter and sister to the roles of helpmate and caretaker. I got multiple jobs. I helped pay bills. I chauffeured. I did everything a seventeen-year-old could do to help my mom with my three younger siblings. But somewhere along the way, in the maze of a life with a new challenge and a new hurt around every corner, I got lost.
My life became a one-way street of holding my family together. It wasn’t an attainable goal, and it certainly wasn’t something I had to do or even should have shouldered by myself, but I did it anyway. I did it because there was a part of me that saw it as bigger than duty. This was MY family. I wanted do everything in my power for them. Looking back now, I had no idea what the limits of my power were, so I leapt over them without realizing and pressed on. Determination can be a scary thing.
As you may suspect, years of this burnt me out. Stress suffocated me. Depression and anxiety crippled me but only on the inside. Outside, I thrived. I got married, got my degree, and continued putting everyone ahead of myself. I did this until I couldn’t anymore—physically, I just couldn’t.
And it was there I learned what true courage meant for me. Courage was, in a sense, selfishness. Courage was saying no. Courage was finally confronting my own worst enemy—me.
Those of us who are selfless suffer at our own hands. We push our needs aside again and again, content to uplift those around us. Having a spirit like this is a blessing. It’s beautiful, and it can bring such joy to you and those around you. But it can only truly fulfill those things if we realize that we have to treat ourselves with the same kindness we show others. Too often, a kind word to another is a harsh word to ourselves. A kind act is shadowed by a self-punishment.
If you’re like me, it’s hard, even near impossible, to put yourself first. Do it.
Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s easier said than done. That’s why I have to find the courage to even follow my own advice on most days.
Courage is knowing how far you can stretch and setting your limits, despite the backlash you might face. It’s hard to say no sometimes, to put aside helping someone else to help yourself. And don’t think other people will make it easy, because they won’t.
You see, I think selfishness has two sides. The one we’re taught to avoid is the one that takes no courage at all. It thinks only of itself and how to get ahead of others. It’s fueled by pride. The other selfishness is the one no one talks about; the one that keeps you from falling apart. It has been overshadowed by selflessness, which—let’s face it—is the prettier of the two.
In the end, my brand of courage is built on that broad definition of facing your fears. I never thought one of my biggest fears would be chasing my own wellbeing, yet here I am, mustering the courage to do so each and every day. Here I am, often just settling for okay. Never did I think my favorite word would be so hard to say when it meant I had to say it for myself. Yet here I am, struggling to pronounce that two-letter word—no.
It’s a daunting task to face the possibility that your self-care will be seen as the wrong side of selfish—that your right to be well will be treated instead as a privilege controlled by others. Don’t be fooled by your fear. Take hold of your courage—stand up for your own importance. And embrace your selflessness at the same time. Keep loving others. Keep helping them. Show them that taking care of you doesn’t mean you’ve stopped caring for them.
I leave you with this challenge: practice a little selfish courage once in a while. You just might like how much stronger it can make you.