Since I’ve been `outed’ online, not through choice, as That Woman who Married the Maasai Warrior, I’ve had all sorts of people getting in touch to tell me they’d love to go to Africa (or some other far-away place) but don’t know how they’ll ever find the courage.
Reflecting on what made me brave enough to go to Tanzania in my early twenties, and why it’s so much harder to get brave enough to do anything outside my comfort zone now that I’m coming up to my fortieth birthday, what I’ve realised is that there are two different kinds of courage.
There’s what I call illusion-based courage, or `gap year’ courage. Lots of people will know what I mean by that. It’s a naïve kind of bravery, the kind you have when you’re looking out from a rose-coloured bubble of privilege and idealism. When I first left Oxford, I did stuff just because I could, and didn’t overthink it. Why shouldn’t I get out there and change the world? Why shouldn’t I start a company and an NGO from scratch, build a school, save girls from FGM, marry my colleague, have kids, and take them to the Maasai village to visit their grandparents? What could possibly go wrong?
I was in love. Passionately. Not just with Lesikar, but with Tanzania: the music, the colours, the stories, the wisdom, the land, the sky, the wildlife, the fruit, the flowers, the sense of community, the deep faith and trust, the fact that everyone talks about God and spirituality as if they’re completely taken for granted.
The flip side was always there, of course, but I wasn’t seeing it. Well, they say love is blind. If I felt any fear at all, which I don’t remember, it was overridden by a massive burst of endorphins, serotonin, oxytocin, and all that other feel-good stuff that happens when you’re in love.
And then, of course, things started to go wrong. Sometimes a little bit wrong, like a bout of malaria that was quickly treated with medication and everything was fine again…until the next time. Sometimes horribly wrong.
And then it got to a point where I realised that actually, it wasn’t all going to be fine, and prayer wasn’t going to magically make everything happen the way that I wished it would, and maybe I couldn’t manifest things just by dreaming them after all.
That’s when I needed the second type of courage.
The second type of courage, which I call disillusioned courage, is what you need in order to survive after the dream dies and the rosy bubble bursts…
It isn’t all sunshine and serotonin any more. On a good day, it feels like two steps forward and one back. On a bad day, it’s one forward and three back, and you wonder if you’ll ever figure it out.
Finding the courage to move to another country, or start a business, or whatever that big scary goal might be, is very different if you’re not under 22 and over-privileged. It’s very different if you’ve already lived life, struggled, loved, lost your illusions, and been deeply hurt. If you’ve been bereaved or traumatised, or suffered a serious illness. If you’ve been in the same job for twenty years.
So if that’s you, all I can say is please, please stop beating yourself up over the fact that you’re not already Doing The Thing.
Start celebrating the fact that you were brave enough to acknowledge that you’re afraid of it. A lot of people go through their lives making all sorts of excuses as to why they haven’t Done The Thing, but never get around to admitting that actually it’s scaring the shit out of them.
Then take that first tiny step. Send that e-mail or text, or make that phone call, or comment on this blog, or click a link, or invite a Facebook friend to meet up for a coffee… and celebrate that. Because these are the places where true, disillusioned courage begins.
It doesn’t begin when you step on the plane.