If only wonderful and amazing things happen to you, you will never learn to be brave.
As I’m approaching my fourth anniversary of posting an essay every single day (which will fall on 9/1/2020), I find myself looking back and realizing all the things I didn’t know about writing in public before I set out.
One thing I didn’t expect was how definitively people respond to what is essentially a tiny sliver of who you are, one facet of you. This is because you present one point of view in any essay you write. You tell one story, maybe two, three at most. And while there’s much more to you as a person, people will respond to you like your entire life is that one essay, just copy-pasted a zillion times, like the world’s laziest computer-generated flock of Hollywood extras.
Here’s an example: If you post something hopeful about the future, people will assume that nothing bad has ever happened to you. That you are cautiously optimistic because you don’t understand what pain feels like. So you don’t fear it.
So I’ve found that when I write stories of redemption, of hope, that I have to make sure I mention that I’ve had traumas, I’ve worked through challenges, or otherwise, people come to the wrong conclusion, and it undermines the essay.
It’s understandable, I suppose, that people jump to conclusions based on one piece of information, particularly if this is all they have. If this is the only thing they’ve ever read by you.
But I’ve always found this particular generalization difficult. Because I’ve found the opposite to be true: That people who have never experienced setbacks worry incessantly about them and are intolerant of them. Meanwhile, those who have struggled do not fear them in the same way. Because they know they can deal with them. They have navigated life’s challenges and learned that they are more capable than they thought.
They have learned to be brave. And learning to be brave is something that you do when terrifying things happen to you, you tackle them, and you make it through to the other side.
It’s rarely quick or easy getting there. There will be times that humble you, that make you wonder if you’ll ever make it. But if you hold on and you move through the pain, eventually you get there.
It’s something I try to keep in mind when I meet people who are sunny, optimistic, and hopeful. That while you won’t see it on their face in the moment that there are probably darker times that they fought through that got them there.