/audacity/[ôˈdasədē] n. boldness or daring, especially with confident or arrogant disregard for personal safety, conventional thought, or other restrictions.
Occasionally, we come up to certain crossroads in our lives, with one sign pointing to what would be safe, easy, comfortable. The “stay the course” route that is expected. The other one, far more steep and possibly treacherous, is the path leading to that thing: that opportunity, that conviction, that dream that is inviting what is deep within us to emerge, even at the daunting cost of terrifying risks and vulnerability, the looming unknown, and so much bravery.
It may be a moment as small as speaking your truth wholeheartedly at the dinner table with your family or as big as choosing to quit your predictable, safe, (and—let’s admit it, soul-sucking) job to pursue that thing you’ve always dreamed of doing.
Deciding to step out on that other path takes guts. Tenacity. Spunk. Ferocity. Gumption. Chutzpah. Call it what you will, there’s something both incredulous and inspiring about witnessing an audacious person step out in bravery and claim the “arrogance of belonging” as the poet David Whyte calls it. To boldly choose to live a life that matches up with what is burning inside oneself, even at the cost of “playing it safe,” choosing to disregard “the way things have always been done,” and the breaking past the restrictions that expectation, fear, and the myriad of other obstacles that life puts on us, begging us to just choose the path of least resistance. I want to honor those moments of audacity— not a narcissistic demand to rise to the top, but a stubborn and resolute declaration that “I am here! and this thing that I must do is important!”
There are two sides to that moment:
The Moments Before
At that crossroads, that brink between safety and boldness, a litany of thoughts and fears, ranging from the curious what-ifs to the nasty accusatory who-do-you-think-you-are’s swarm around relentlessly. The lure of the comfortable battles with the uncertainty of hope. For awhile, you hear the invitation, the call to do that thing your soul is longing to do. First it’s an encouraging conversation here, an inspiring podcast there, a book that resonates with something deep within. Soon the messages telling you to take that leap, inviting you, asking you, begging you to do that which ignites your soul are everywhere, inescapable. The moment comes where you must summon up the bravery and choose to align your actions with that which allows you to be wholehearted. You decide to pay the cost to lay claim to that which makes you feel alive.
The Moments After:
There are few things sweeter than the feeling of living a life congruent with who we were made to be. Yes— there are those euphoric moments of deep soul joy, and immense gratitude that you are able to do that thing. But there are lots of messy moments too— of self-doubt, of wrestling, the weariness of vulnerability that is uncomfortable and a never ending pull like a riptide back towards the less risky, the safe, the familiar. Precarious though it may be, this is what it means to be fully human. Pursuing that which makes your soul alive is worth the cost.
Think of the people you know who are choosing this— who have stepped out in bravery, had the audacity to follow their dream. There is a magnetic force that draws us in, that awakens things inside us, that call us to do the same. See, we must have the audacity to pursue these things, to make that art, to write that novel, to pursue that job, to speak up for those that are voiceless, to respond to that fire in our belly. Who are we not to sing the song that has been put inside us?
My last semester in college was spent in Brasilia, student teaching at an American International School there. As my trip was coming to a close, I can remember fretting over what I would do and where I would go when I got back to the States. The principal at the school, an incredible and audacious woman, made a comment to me that has stuck with me. “What a privilege and an honor that you have so many things to choose from!” she remarked. “That you get to have the burden of too many options that you don’t know which good thing to choose. Ours is one of the first generations of women to have that problem.”
That blew me away- and shifted my mindset that launched me into my post-college life. Never has it been easier for women in our country to pursue what they want, where they want. Is it only fear holding us back? Fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of it being hard, fear of what others will think. Not that I’m trying to downplay the reality of those risks, but even 100 years ago, most women didn’t even get to entertain those fears, let alone step out in bravery to chase their dreams. To have the luxury to fail and still be completely okay. Rather than living under the oppressive fear of the worst case scenarios, what if we were to start stepping out and audaciously asking “What’s the best thing that could happen?”
We can create a life working out an answer to Mary Oliver’s haunting question:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”