The Fear of Asking: What Courage Looks Like for Me

Amanda Palmer Art of AskingHeather Plett asked an important question this week, What does courage look like for you?

“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant ‘To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.’ Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences — good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as ‘ordinary courage.’” Brene Brown

When I tell people about our special family they often respond by telling me how brave I am for living with my son and his adoptive parents. They find it difficult to imagine how I can let go and hold on simultaneously, how I can face the heartache I feel a little bit every day, how I can trust that the heartache is not unbearable.

I don’t feel brave. I just feel like I’m being me.

I don’t feel brave because certain forms of vulnerability come as natural to me as breathing. I have to work to not be emotionally vulnerable with people! When it comes to who I am and my experiences, I easily and literally bare all. I have no shame about where I come from, what I’ve overcome in my life, or who I am. In fact, I think I’m awesome for all I’ve achieved when the odds were stacked sky high against me by both nature and nurture.

Another reason I don’t feel brave is that I am not afraid of emotional pain so it isn’t hard for me to make bold choices. I’ve already experienced enough trauma to know that I can’t be broken. And I know that something beautiful can always be created from the ugly. Every trauma in my life has eventually led me to profound love and connection.

The last reason I don’t feel brave is that I have immense trust in the Universe and other humans. This is how I am wired. Some people say I am naive and too trusting, but I don’t know how to be any other way. I don’t live in fear of much of anything in the world. I’m not afraid of dying. I’m not afraid of catastrophes. I’m not afraid of people taking advantage of me. I don’t think about locking my doors or cultivating privacy or insuring my belongings or anything that comes from a fear of something bad happening. I spend little time or energy protecting myself. I just don’t think about it. I’m too busy being present to what’s happening now, paying attention to the incredibly beautiful humans and world around me, and wondering about all the magical possibilities for the future.

Considering this question – what courage looks like for me – took a few days to unravel. Eventually I came to an important insight relevant to my journey at this moment in time: my courage looks like asking. For anything. It doesn’t matter if it’s asking for help in a bookstore or asking a dear friend for a favor or asking a donor for money or asking my employer for a well-deserved raise. Every single ask is a reach beyond my comfort zone.

I’ll face the challenge when it means I might experience a profound movement towards my dreams (like proposing to speak at Life is a Verb Camp), but it’s terrifying and doesn’t feel good. The anxiety makes me sick to my stomach. Then it feels downright shitty when I’m rejected, which I experienced many times this past year as I searched for work, only to find myself in a position where my requests to bring more value to the table are denied.

I recently read The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer because I resonate strongly with her message and because I knew it would have something to teach me. Intellectually I know that asking is a powerful act of vulnerability and trust, both qualities we’ve established I have in abundance. But emotionally there is some sort of block, a deep down fear of being told no, or worse, ignored in my asking. And now I see that is where I need to look, to my Invisible Girl archetype, the little girl in me who is used to being neglected and ignored. I recognize this old fear of being unseen and that asking for what I need and want is the scariest position I believe I could put myself in.

I’ve reached a place in my creative life where I have to ask to get where I desire to go as a writer and community builder. I have to ask for attention to my words and my work. I have to ask for social network promotion. I have to ask to be trusted as an expert. I have to ask to be published by other websites. I have to ask for an agent and a publishing deal. I have to ask for collaborators. I have to ask for support in a myriad of ways, eventually from thousands of people, for this to lead me to the possibility of doing the work of my heart full-time and on my own terms.

There is so much asking to be done that I’m shaking in my rose embroidered doc marten boots.

So this is what my courage looks like today – I created a Facebook page for Radical Mystic and asked most of my friends to like it. I am sharing with you that I have this fear of asking and making myself accountable to face it down. Next I’ll start working on my ask for stories about belonging, because I believe sharing our stories will emphasize it’s importance to our quality of life.

I have been immersing myself in information about gift economy and inspired to experiment with the possibilities. Yet I’ve been hiding in this fear of asking since I moved to Portland, consciously leaning on the excuses of adjusting to change, looking for work, nurturing a relationship with my son and chosen family, and and and…the excuses I could call justifiable are endless.

I’m done hiding.
I’m done letting fear rule me.
And this is just the beginning.
Soon there will be more asks, bigger asks, and I’ll meet each one with courage until I am no longer afraid.

What does courage look like for you?

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