Cowardice vs courage

If someone said that I spent too much of my time on this planet being a coward, they’d probably be right. I’m not talking about “Ha ha! He’s a sissy!”/”Nobody calls me ‘chicken'” out of TV and films. I’m talking about wider life decisions. Addressing and blogging about this also helps me (and I hope others) understand a little bit more about anxiety too, and trying to disentangle what for me is part of dealing with mental health issues on one side vs what WikiP describes as a personality trait with negative characteristics

The two big decisions – choice of A-levels and choice of university and subject chosen are probably the ones where had I displayed anything in the way of resolve and courage, things may have turned out differently. What was geography-economics-maths should have been history-politics-economics at A-level and and an undergraduate degree that somehow combined all three of those A-levels. Interestingly (as I’ve mentioned before) it was the mathematical skills that I learnt in A-level maths that seem to have been the most useful in the world of work. Funny how things work out like that. Turning around those decisions now is too late for me. Part of the ‘growing up’ experience for me is taking personal responsibility for what I did and did not do – and the decisions that I made. Rather than spending the rest of my days moaning about ‘the hinge factor’ type decisions, I try to look at what can be done to improve the lot of others & amongst other things help them find the information that will help them come to considered decisions. It’s one of the reasons why I think mentors can be so helpful.

After graduating, I asked myself whether what I had actually become was what I had wanted to become. (To which the answer was a resounding “no”). Yet at the same time there was still what I now see as this selfish urge to ‘prove myself’ – though to this day I’m not entirely sure who I was trying to prove myself to. Was it the people who drive the Life on a piece of paper mindset? Cowardice and selfishness are extremely dangerous drivers – especially in the same car. It was only when I worked out that what my head wanted was quite often different from what my heart wanted that things began to change. To give two examples: 1) my head wanted my ego to be stroked whereas my heart preferred to love and be loved; 2) my head was more dazzled/impressed by the more materialistic things in this world whereas my heart was not. For too long the former ruled the latter.

Going through the process of acknowledging the negative traits we have as individuals is never easy. It is however essential for anyone wanting to go down a path of personal self-improvement. For me it was – & still is a painful process as my general disposition is of someone who takes criticism personally. (The interviewer that grilled me at the Fast Stream Assessment Centre spotted this and even put this in the final report on my performance). It’s emotionally painful too when other people pick up on those traits – especially those ones that you’d really love not to have. In the past there have been times where I’ve said to myself “I wish I wasn’t like that.”

But it doesn’t have to be like that – or rather as I have been asking myself over recent years: “What are you going to do to change things?” It was one of the reasons why I chose to leave the civil service. The ‘easier’ decision would have been to have kept my head low, nominally going by the principle of “I’ll stay in the civil service until they sack me!” – which sounded great as a sound bite at the time to others, but in reality was a short term cloak to hide behind the really difficult decision that I had to make. Hence amongst other things why I jumped rather than waited to be pushed. Since then, having a blank slate (especially the blank financial one) has helped immensely because things that perhaps I was tied to or that had affected my decision making in the past (e.g. debt) no longer applied.

What I’ve tried to do in recent times is to avoid blaming other people and things for my own predicament. The main reason for doing so is that if I blame someone/something else, I take away my ability to do something about it. The other thing is: What if the person you blame turns around and apologises – for example the teacher who was particularly useless or the person that really hurt you? There is no come back for that. An apology in such a situation is all you are going to get. As for the people who have since passed away or the institutions that have since been dissolved…exactly. (I’ve had half a primary school & a secondary school flattened and rebuilt during & after my time there, and two of the three institutions that I have worked for full-time, for over 6 months have since been closed). At some stage you have to move on – though this is far easier said than done.

I separate cowardice from ‘anxiety’ because I tend to look at the latter through the lens of how this manifests in my mind and body – in particular the symptoms. One can be courageous but at the same time struggle with an anxiety disorder just as one can show cowardice and not suffer from such a condition. Helping understand one has helped me understand and deal with the other. It also means that I’m clear in my mind at least when a barrier is related to a lack of courage to when it is related to my own mental health problems. For example going to a new exercise class that you’ve not done at a venue you’ve never been to takes a little bit of courage. But the purpose of doing so (in my case) is to try and get into a habit of doing something physically high-impact that I’ve not done since school as part of dealing with anxiety. (It took me nearly a week for my thighs to recover from week 1).

Courage for me involves ‘feeling the fear and doing it anyway’ – or even doing it because you feel the fear. There are also aspects about acknowledging what I do and don’t like – & not pretending that I like something just to impress someone, whether boss, date, acquaintance or complete stranger. It’s one of the reasons why after graduating I spent a fair amount of time trying out new activities – mainly evening classes, trying to get a feel for what I did and did not like. My anecdotal theory was to try these things out several times to find out whether I really liked them or not. Across a number of fields I’ve now found what works for me – across music, art, dance, literature, fashion, politics…well I’m still working on that one!

Was it cowardice run a twitter account under an avatar? Maybe, maybe not. It’s certainly been a damn sight more fun though! The other thing is that engaging with so many people through such a flexible medium is that I’ve stumbled across far more people with shared interests than I could ever possibly have imagined. Certainly with the people that I’ve met, I don’t feel any need to try and ‘impress’ them in anyway. I can just be me. And I’m comfortable with that. Given where I’ve been emotionally over the past decade or so, for me that is a huge achievement – one that I’m grateful to all of those who’ve helped me get there.

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