Over the 4th of July weekend, I reflected on America’s fight to overcome oppression of the British Empire. The colonialists took up arms against England to fight for what they believed were basic human rights—freedom to think, worship, speak, and be governed as they saw fit. It took a great deal of courage to defy the British, who ruled the world at that time, but that courage fostered an experiment in freedom and liberty that still thrives to this day, despite our shortcomings and failures to live up to the inherent promise of America of life, liberty and justice for all.
That reflection brought me to a place where I contemplated my own courage. I’ve always thought that courage takes many forms, not just the cliché image of a man on a battlefield shooting a rifle, and that idea has often weaved itself into my storylines. Indeed, all my plots are designed to make my protagonists discover the depths of their courage. Yet, I’ve never considered myself a brave man. Perhaps that’s why I love writing about it.
But over the weekend, while thinking of the bravery and the sacrifice of the American colonialists, I mentally listed times in my life when I felt I displayed courage.
The first truly courageous act I did, while still a teenager, was to leave home and join the Navy. It was a time when I left everything behind and walked naked into an unknown new world.
As frightening as leaving home was, the act that I believe took the most personal courage was, in 1976 and fresh out of the Navy, I decided that I would not live my life in the closet. Come what may, I would live openly as a gay man. I knew there would be many opportunities that I would be denied, but after four years of hiding my sexuality in the navy, I knew that was no way to live my life. It is a decision I’ve never once regretted.
Another time of courage came when I walked away from a very lucrative career in Corporate America to become a fulltime writer/traveler. Everyone, colleagues, family, and even my husband, told me I was crazy. But I had a dream, the kind of dream that sits on your chest like a millstone and won’t let you breathe until you follow it. That’s what it felt like. Then one day a colleague of mine had a heart attack at his desk and I watched them carry him out of the building on a stretcher. The thought of spending my whole life making money for some corporation until they carried my dead body away sent a shiver down my spine, and I submitted my resignation a week later. Again, even though I’ve gone through some lean times and publishing novels does little to put food on the table, I’ve never once regretted that decision.
What have been your moments of courage? What are you facing now that requires you to muster up courage like you never have before to achieve personal greatness? Think about someone in your past that meant a lot to you and put yourself in their shoes and just imagine what they must have been thinking and ultimately experienced because they had a desire for something better. What is it that burns inside of you that will force you to take a leap of faith and find the courage you need to move yourself beyond what is holding you back?
What my few—yet powerful—moments of courage have taught me is this: Don’t hesitate. Don’t look back. Don’t second guess yourself and be true to what is important to you. Don’t let life and opportunities go by because of fear and not mustering the courage you needed to achieve something better in your life. Do whatever you need to do to be true to yourself. I believe that that alone will make you happy.