Has anyone recently told you how brave you are?
Probably not. The writing life doesn’t come off as requiring courage. In a normal day’s work, the worst danger you’re likely to face is a paper cut. But if you’re a writer – if you’re taking ideas out of your head and turning them into words – then you’re sure as hell brave. Don’t forget that. Never let anyone convince you that what you do is easy or not a real job or even safe.
Every time you travel you conquer a mountain. Every single time you start a journey, you’re at ground level, gazing up at the words yet to be written. You might feel daunted. You probably feel excited. There’s a journey ahead, a challenge, and you’re up for it. And you start climbing. You walk a hundred meters, five hundred, a thousand. You pause to catch your breath. The mountain ahead looks as big as ever. You glance back at how far you’ve come. You’re barely off the ground. You walk more and more and more. It takes longer than expected. It’s harder than you thought it would be. You think about quitting.
But you carry on.
Eventually you come to the end of your first part of your travel. You’re exhausted but elated, because there were times when you never thought you’d make it. You pat yourself on the back and pour yourself a glass of wine. And then you look up. Up, and up, and up. There’s still a hell of a lot of mountain to climb.
But you carry on.
You have what it takes. Many people don’t. They might talk about traveling or hang around travelers or read about traveling or think about traveling. They might even start on their own journey. But they never finish anything. You do. You climb mountains. And you get to see the view from the top. The journey isn’t all mountains. There are valleys too. When you feel like all the things and all the people have been wrung out of you, you’re in a valley. When you try to be yourself but everything turns to ashes, you’re in a valley. Valleys are full of shadows. There’s nothing heroic-looking about stumbling through a valley. At least people can see you climbing up on the mountain. They might not understand why you’re there. They might tell you to quit, or tell you that you’re on the wrong mountain, or tell you that your climbing technique looks weird. But they can see you’re doing something.
From outside, the valley doesn’t look too deep. Most people can’t see the shadows. They can’t see the demons that you struggle with. They can’t see how much bravery it takes to face down your self-doubt. They don’t understand why saying, “I am a brave traveler,” is so difficult and so scary and so liberating all at once. Down in the valley, you feel more alone than you did on the mountain. You think you shouldn’t be in the valley at all. You think you’re a failure. You’re below ground level now. You’re afraid you’ll never climb another mountain again. You’re afraid those mountains you climbed before were flukes. You fight your way past. It’s hard, and bloody, and no one sees how much it takes out of you, and there are a lot of unfairness in the whole world, and nobody sees it.
But you carry on.
The clouds start to lift. You see daylight ahead. And you see the next mountain. You’re inspired and encouraged and invigorated by your fellows. They reassure you. They give you the weapons you need to fight those demons in the valley. Traveling matters. This can change the world. Your friends are brave and strong and they care about you. But, ultimately, it’s your bravery which counts. Bravery is carrying on when you’re tempted to quit. Bravery is climbing a mountain when the world says you’re crazy. Bravery is taking the thoughts that you’re scared to show to anyone and putting them into words.
No matter how hard it is, no matter how scared you are, no matter how much mountain you have to climb or how deep your valley goes, you can always take one more step forwards. Climbing a mountain? Stuck in a valley? Just be brave, you’re not alone.
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