My one word for 2017 was courage. I chose to focus on courage because, for most of my life, I prided myself on being a top-notch perfectionist. Then one day I realized that my constant striving for perfection wasn’t a strength but rather a weakness. My need to be perfect caused me to miss out on so much because I was terrified I would fail. So for one year I committed to saying yes to all of the things I wanted to do but was afraid to try.
That summer I decided I would start pursuing a longtime dream of visiting every state park in my home state of Minnesota. In order to do this efficiently and cost-effectively, I would need to camp solo. The thought of sleeping alone in a tent in the dark woods in the middle of nowhere scared the heck out of me. But this was my year of living courageously so I decided to give it a go.
Two years later, I can confidently tell you that this thing that once terrified me is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I learned and changed so much along my journey. This experience transformed my life and has inspired me to take on new challenges like backpacking and canoe camping.
Here’s a look back at what I was thinking before I hit the trail. This post was originally published in August of 2017. Be sure to read my two-year update at the end of this post that will inspire you to live more courageously too.
In August of 2017 I wrote:
The last few years have been interesting and challenging for my husband, Jeremiah, and I. At the end of 2014 we decided that I was going to leave a toxic work environment so that we could stop waiting for retirement to explore our interests and passions. Sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it?
In reality, it has been much more difficult than expected. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful for where we are. But boy have we been challenged to face our fears and step out of our comfort zones.
We spent most of our lives playing it safe and living the life we thought was expected of us. But as we grew up and discovered more about who we are, we began to realize that we were living other people’s dreams and not our own. This prompted us to begin discussing what we want our lives to look like and we began laying the foundation to get there.
One thing that helped us build this foundation was setting goals. As I was reviewing my goals from the previous year, I felt pretty disappointed in my lack of progress. I learned a lot and created valuable content but I failed to hit my most important targets. I spent much of that December figuring out what went wrong.
I was able to trace all of my shortcomings back to fear and limiting beliefs that I had been carrying around as long as I can remember. I learned that this is actually quite common as people level up their lives. Eventually, you hit a ceiling of what you think you deserve. In his book, The Big Leap, Gay Hendrix calls it the Upper Limit Problem.
Realizing that I had hit my upper limit, I decided that 2017 was the year that I would focus on building courage. I started taking baby steps and doing small things that scared me. My courage muscle began to grow and I finally felt like I was moving forward again. Then something magical happened.
Facing my fears and stepping out of my comfort zone became exhilarating and I wanted to do it more. My courage seemed to be cultivating more courage.
Then, midway through the year, my inner gypsy started getting rowdy. Jer and I typically take at least one long vacation each year. Jer had unfortunately been using a lot of vacation time to deal with family things over the last few years. I was understanding of what he needed to do, but that didn’t stop me from whining occasionally. I NEEDED to get out and roam.
Jer kept encouraging me to go solo. As I considered his nudges, I started thinking about what kind of epic adventure I wanted to do. I had always dreamed of visiting every Minnesota State Park but I had never camped alone and was honestly quite terrified. I was deathly afraid of the dark, being alone in the woods, bears, wolves, rattlesnakes, and of course, ax murderers. But I love traveling, camping, hiking, biking, and kayaking so I decided to do it anyway.
I did a test run a couple of weeks later. For the first time ever I traveled solo to a park, set up, and camped alone for a couple of days. Jer met up with me on the weekend to hang out and make sure I could take it all down by myself. Looking back, it seems silly that I was concerned about these things. But I also remember how accomplished I felt.
Since then I have spent more than 100 nights alone in my tent. This thing that used to terrify me became a very important part of my healing. It’s helped me find clarity and develop new ideas. It’s molded me into more of a human being and less of a human doing.
But the most rewarding part of all of this is something I never expected. By stepping out of my comfort zone and sharing my story, I helped others do the same. It’s been amazing to watch other courageous men and women step into their fears and do those things they’ve always dreamed of doing. It’s been an incredible journey and I know it’s just the beginning.
Whatever you’ve been longing for the courage to do, know that you don’t have to dive in head first. Before I went into the woods alone for three weeks, I did a test run. I recommend you do the same. Just commit to one tiny thing that will get you closer to your dream. Then do a little more and a little more and before you know it, you’ll be celebrating how far you’ve come.
What are your best tips for cultivating courage? Share in the comments below or come say “hi” on Facebook.