“When we make the choice to dare greatly, we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both” – Brené Brown
I had it pretty easy as a kid. After school, Mom used to come out with trays of homemade brownies and fresh lemonade for me and the neighborhood kids as we lounged by the pool. We vacationed in Hawaii as a family and I always had new clothes from Nordstrom. I had loving, supportive parents. My group of neighborhood friends and I were thick as thieves. If I had to summate one word to encapsulate my childhood, the one that jumps out is “comfortable.”
Believe me, comfort is easy to get used to. Mom used to call me “Little Lord Fauntleroy” as if I were a spoiled prince and to be truthful, I was. As a teenager, I popped the collar on my polo shirt and drove around town in the family Mercedes without a care in the world. In college, life on easy street continued and I was the social chair of my fraternity, both literally and figuratively. Other than having a couple of high school break ups and losing a couple of childhood pets, I didn’t have a hard day of labor, trauma, or difficult period in my childhood. I even have the soft hands to prove it. It wasn’t until my first job out of college where I finally faced a challenging stretch.
Actually, it was more like a wake-up call than a challenging stretch. In the media business, I was expected to sell if I wanted to get paid and consistently produce if I wanted to keep my job. I couldn’t believe my seeming misfortune. Looking for some reprieve I inquired to my boss “When is spring break?” The boss raised an eyebrow and smirked, “Umm yeah, we don’t do spring break. This is the real world.”
The ‘real world.’ Those words haunted me for years. If you believe what you see on TV or read on the internet, it’s a scary place out there…the rising cost of living, corporate greed, the collapsing environment, dysfunctional government, health epidemics, fear, death, destruction, impending doom…where is there any relief!?
To many, the antidote to the real world is comfort. Like my childhood version of comfort, to some, relief is found in the seclusion of their ‘mcmansions,’ luxury sedans and fancy vacations. Others seek comfort at the bottom of a bottle or soothing effects of a pill.
Comfort is found in both escape as well as a in a sense of certainty – job titles, money in the bank, and surrounding ourselves with constant entertainment and interaction. We become defined by our stuff, our accomplishments, the jobs we have, our relationships and our activities - I am a successful wife, father, business executive, golfer, home owner.
None of these things (other than the drugs of course) are inherently bad things. Money, cars, houses, vacations, jobs, family – can all bring satisfaction. But these things also tend to bring only temporary satisfaction. The real world also has a way of inserting its will – sickness, divorce, downsized. What about when certainty suddenly becomes uncertain - Then what?
At such times, we have two choices – fight or flight. ‘Flight’ is the familiar story and puts you back in the matrix - the escape of a new car, new activity, new partner, new sofa. Whereas ‘Fight’ puts you up against your biggest, baddest and toughest opponent – you. If you choose fight, you choose uncertainty over certainty and the quest for truth. Choosing fight means you choose the dare.
My first real dare happened after the perfect storm of a failed long-term relationship and my first career ending as a dot-com casualty. Without the stability of a career or comfort of a life partner, I stared in to the abyss. What now?
I started my dare process with a pen and a notebook at various Seattle coffee shops the throes of the 2001 recession. With no job or money, I had lots of time to ponder my next step and future path. After struggling to ask the right questions, eventually I settled on ‘who am I?’ and ‘what do I want?’ Answers flowed naturally into my notebook:
Who am I?
I am creative, I am passionate, I am empathetic, I am unique.
What do I want?
I want to express my artistry as an actor and writer, I want to find the perfect partner, I want to get married, I want to get a stable job, I want to demonstrate fitness, purpose, and wellness, I want to grow spiritually…
These desires, while well-intentioned, have been failures and uncertainties more than they have been successes. In part, I didn’t find the satisfaction, freedom, peace of mind I was looking for because I wasn’t digging deep enough. The questions I was asking were self-centered, self-directed and all about me.
Daring isn’t just about defining what you like and what you want, daring is about defining what and who you are at your core. While changing jobs, changing cities, and starting or ending a new relationship are courageous endeavors, they still are just about changing labels. Labels ultimately don’t define us, ‘dares’ do. For me getting divorced wasn’t the dare, facing a failed marriage was. Trying a new job or activity wasn’t the dare, facing the challenge and uncertainty was. Rather than making a new label, to dare is to face yourself without the label.
To dare means the willingness to strive for authenticity. The existential question that looms for all of us is ‘outside of my job, family, and activities, what truly defines me?’ The only way to know is to dare, or as Brené Brown puts it "Dare Greatly."
Daring is about exploring what you can be and what difference you can make…another way to think about it is the question, “How can I demonstrate my real purpose?” The essential nature of the dare is authenticity. The requirements are introspection, vulnerability, and courage. Sometimes we dare because we are called to, whereas other times we dare as a last resort.
Three cities and many, many attempts and failures later, I’m still standing. I don’t know where my next dare will take me, but I know that each day, I have a choice. Like the famous scene in The Matrix we all have a choice to make - the blue pill keeps us exactly where we are, the red pill is to dare greatly and strive for truth.