How to Find Your Brave Place (and the Good Thing Waiting for You There)

What is the key ingredient in bravery? The answer may surprise you. And what is bravery the key ingredient in? The answer to that one might surprise you even more…


Photo Credit: Bigstock (CherylCasey)

I put it off as long as I could.

Last spring, my kids each earned a free pass to Six Flags Great America by meeting a reading quota at school, so we promised them a summer trip to the theme park. I’m not a huge fan of shelling out silly amounts of money to fight crowds and wait in long lines under a blazing sun. But a promise is a promise. So, finally, on a Friday in late July, we’d run out of excuses and we went to the park. My kids had never ridden a roller coaster.

I wasn’t sure how brave they’d be.

My youngest, Caitlin, at six years old, didn’t think she could handle the coaster with the big drop, two loops, and four inversions in total. But she rode it, and she said it was the most terrifying thing she’d ever done.

Our middle guy, Quinn, at eight years old, didn’t think he could handle the high velocity wooden coaster with the teeth-rattling turns and eleven stomach-churning drops. But he rode it, and he said it was the most terrifying thing he’d ever done.

And our oldest son, Aidan, a twelve-year-old adrenaline junky, didn’t know if he could handle the biggest coaster in the park, The Goliath. It’s the world’s fastest, tallest, and steepest wooden coaster—boasting a 180 foot drop at a nearly vertical, 85-degree angle, while flying 72mph. But he rode it, and he said it was the most terrifying thing he’d ever done.

It turns out my kids are brave, because bravery isn’t the absence of fear.

Bravery is going one step farther than you think you can.

It’s not being fearless during that step. It is simply taking it. In fact, fear is a necessary ingredient for bravery. If you aren’t afraid, there is nothing, really, to be brave about.

In life, most of us, naturally, settle into patterns that stop just short of our scary coaster. We ride the rides that thrill us but don’t terrify us. Meanwhile, there is a voice in the back of our head, telling us which ride we’d like to get on—the ride that is just out of our comfort zone and just one step into our scary zone. In life, that ride might be a new relationship or a new job or a new town or a new church. Or it might be a new way of being in the midst of old relationships and jobs and towns and churches.

Whatever that ride is, it will be scary to step onto it. But in doing so, you will find the brave place inside of you. And you will find something else, too.

You will find joy…

At the end of the day, on the ride home, I asked my kids which was their favorite ride. And, to be honest, I expected them to name the first coaster of the day, the one they all knew they could handle, the one they weren’t afraid of, the one they road with laughter and squeals of delight. I expected them to name the one they didn’t have to be brave to step onto. I was wrong.

All three of my kids said their favorite ride was their most terrifying one.

It turns out, the things we fear ahead of time but bravely step into anyway are the things we remember most fondly. Why? It certainly isn’t because we enjoy terror. It is simply because we did it. Because we learned something new about ourselves. Because now we know fear won’t have the last word. Because now we know we have a place inside of us—a brave place—we can draw upon to step into the next scary thing.

Fear about the future becomes bravery in the present becomes joy in hindsight.

Joy is knowing you can be scared and still ride through life. Joy is being terrified and trusting you’ll survive it. Joy is believing in yourself enough to believe you are brave.

Of course, there are some kinds of bravery we don’t choose. There are some kinds of bravery that choose us, in the form of trials and tragedies that no human being would ever voluntarily step into. And I don’t want to suggest those kinds of tribulations should be celebrated or enjoyed. But I do want to suggest, adamantly, that those things can be redeemed, by embracing the fact that you survived it. By embracing the brave place inside of you.

By embracing that fear comes and goes, but your brave place is here to stay.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

19 thoughts on “How to Find Your Brave Place (and the Good Thing Waiting for You There)

  1. Beautifull! And it makes me think of Brené Brown’s work too! Stepping into the arena! No matter the result! 🙂
    But we should also remember that fear can also be a friend – something that tells us that this is not a safe place, that you shouldn’t tresspass the cage in the zoo, that although it could be thrilling and terrifying to try to drive dad’s car when we are twelve, we really shouldn’t. That drinking more or taking drugs at College can seem to be stepping out of our comfort zone and showing you have courage to our peers… but it’s not necessarily the brave thing to do. Sometimes being brave is exactly not doing things, even when people say your are not being brave… (Those who decided to not go to Vietnam war were considered cowards…)
    So I totally get your post and find it marvelous, but fear can be a friend sometimes and being brave can be saying no to things too…

  2. BRAVO! One of my favorite quotes is from Eleanor Roosevelt “You must do the thing you think you cannot do” Once again, a FAB post! Thank you

  3. Everytime I read your blog I am challenged. I am inspired. I am awed at your insight and changed for the better.
    That was a GREAT blog, I say to myself.
    But then you write another and another and each one trumps the last.
    Please don’t ever stop writing!
    Thank you for caring and sharing and doing the brave thing yourself, I imagine it is personally I timid at ingredients at times. I pray for you. God Bless you!

  4. Kelly, this is so great! Can I tell you the brave thing I did last week? I went to a fiction writing conference, and even though I wasn’t ready and my story wasn’t ready, I pitched to an agent and met with a second agent. I put myself out there as a writer of fiction and I’m so glad I did! It was all kinds of scary but I was so encouraged by other writers who didn’t know anything about me except that I was there in person. And I’m finding that bravery begets bravery. The more brave things I do, the more brave things I do. It’s crazy and so unlike me, but I believe something changes in me when I step beyond what’s comfortable and it’s not as hard the next time. Such a timely post! Thank you!

    • Yes you can tell me, Lisa, and that is awesome! I’m thinking back to our conversation in December and the focus you had on the memoir at that point; we didn’t talk as much about your fiction. I’m so glad you’ve stepped toward that scary endeavor in 2016! By the way, Stephen Pressfield’s new book, “Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh**,” is so inspiring and informative, especially for writing fiction. He talks about how its even scarier to do than writing non-fiction. Keep going!

  5. Kelly, you are such an insightful soul! You have such wisdom and communicate it so successfully. Loved this post!

  6. Your statement about how bravery isn’t always something that you choose, but what you find yourself in and redeeming it is spot on. I don’t think I have considered myself brave in the standard sense, but..this reminder has me re thinking it. Yes. I. Am. Thanks Dr. K

  7. I’ve experienced a few of those things that nobody would willingly choose, and managed to get out on the other end. And I have to say that while I wouldn’t ‘celebrate’ them, and didn’t ‘enjoy’ them, they were still life-changing in the same way that riding the scariest ride is – minus the enjoyment. But the confidence, the certainty that ‘I handled THAT’ and can do it again if need be, the sense of a steely self somewhere inside, those thing were life changing and self-affirming. There were a few that took time measured in years for me to make my peace about, but they were all helpful.

      • LOL Kelly. I’m flattered. I was just searching for some way of saying something about the ‘brave’ part, without seeming to be too repetitive in regards to your article. I guess it came out as descriptive as I’d hoped it would. If you ever find an appropriate use for that expression, feel free to use it without any credit to me. I think it may be a meme that should be more widely available to others.

  8. Hi Kelly, Thank you for another wonderful write up! I know it’s been a while since I commented, but I’ve kept reading! I love how you explain things so simply and clearly; it makes it possible to try.
    It does remind me of Brene Brown who talks about “every day courage” (bravery) where we need to do things that would seem to make us vulnerable and weak, but doing it anyway. She speaks of how in its original meaning, courage/bravery was about speaking with our whole heart what was in it. Sometimes, it does take a lot of courage and bravery to do that, but it is always worthwhile. Thank you again for your great blog! Please never stop writing!!!!

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