A Brief Guide To Bravery

Spoiler alert: You don’t have to be brave to do brave things.

How Bravery Works

Felix Baumgartner Jump

There’s this misconception that you have to be brave to do brave things. That’s a bunch of crap. There aren’t brave people – there are just people who do stuff that scares them and people who let fear tell keep them from doing things.

Most people assume “brave” people accomplish “brave” things this way:

  1. Born without fear.
  2. Do something incredible.

In reality, it usually goes something like this.

  1. Be terrified of something.
  2. Do it anyways.
  3. Be moderately less scared than the first time you do it.
  4. Repeat

It’s like learning to suck less.

When you first start anything, you usually suck at it – quite a bit. Over time, if you keep practicing and improving, you’ll begin to suck less and less and less until eventually you become mediocre.

With bravery, it’s the same thing. At first you’re scared. Then you’re scared less, then a little less, then a little less. It never really goes away, you just learn how to not let it getin your way. You let it focus you and

It’s only way to do it. The alternative goes something like this.

  1. Be terrified of something.
  2. Do nothing
  3. Still be terrified
Not necessarily a great way to go about life.

How To Be More Brave

Felix Baumgartner Space

I spent an inordinate amount of time this past week watching Felix Baumgartner float up 25 miles above earth in a balloon, step out and fall to earth for 10 minutes.

You want to talk about brave? That guy had to have balls the size of Texas.

Felix didn’t do the mission because he was brave – heck the suit and capsule made him claustrophobic.

Every step he took, he became a little more scared, but, he never let that fear stop him. He made it his friend and became a little more brave with every step.

“Fear has become a friend of mine,” he said in a statement. “It’s what prevents me from stepping too far over the line. On a mission like this, you need to be mentally fit and have total control over what you do, and I’m preparing very thoroughly.”

The entire mission was oen big gut-check. Of course after working 7 years to get to that point, you can’t very easily climb back inside the capsule and ask them to let you come back down. But, every single step until he stepped off that platform and squared off with the earth 25 miles below was a gut check.

But he never hesitated. Not because he was brave, but because he was committed to the mission.

“I know the whole world is watching now. And I wish the world could see what I can see. Sometimes you have to get up really high to understand how small you really are. I’m going home now.” — Felix Baumgartner

Then he stepped off and began a 10 minute long adventure.

The One Step Guide To Bravery

“Learn to love what you’ve been taught to fear.” -Felix Baumgartner

Pick out one thing you’re scared of doing. Go. Do that. 
Instead of running away from what you’re scared of. Run towards it. Go. Do something.
Do it anyways.

Remember: You don’t suddenly “become brave” and then decide to go do something.

It’s the opposite.

Bravery is based on what you do – not how you feel.

Doing the things that scare you is the process that makes you brave and enable you to do more things that scare you even more down the line.

If you want to run an Ironman triathlon but don’t know how to swim, do an indoor triathlon. If you want to jump from the edge of space, google the closest skydiving center near you.
When you do, you’ll get a little bit less afraid and a little more brave.
Start as small as you need to, but start.

What If You Don’t Feel brave?

Be brave anyways.

Be brave. Even if you’re not, pretend to be. No one will know the difference.

I would bet money that Felix’s stomach was in his throat when he decided to step off that platform. But he did it anyways and nobody will ever know otherwise because he still jumped.

The idea that you have to be “ready” to do big things or try new stuff or do something you’ve never done before, is crap. Practice sure, but you don’t have to wait until you fell “ready” (spoiler: you never will), and you don’t have to “brave”.  You just have to do it.

Felix Baumgartner Lands

Be brave. Even if you’re not, pretend to be. No one will know the difference.

Go do something that scares you.

[images courtesy of red bull]

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  1. says

    This is the first time I came across your blog. I love what you wrote. I get scared when i try something new, but i pretend that i am not, and repeat my “i can do this” mantra. It works well, most of the time even I believe it. Also, i realized that the things that made me feel the most fear, are the ones that make the best stories after execution. Keep writing posts like this.

  2. says

    Joel, I freakin’ love this post and could not agree more. I even run a course called Amplify your Courage and since the day I opened my hotmail account 17 years ago, my tagline has been “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” But you know what? I’m a mega introvert and suffered from extreme social anxiety until a couple of years ago. But being brave – specifically the way you outline into this article – is what has allowed me to live the most kick ass life in spite of my fears. I’ve traveled to over 40 countries, lived in 6 outside of my own (Canada) and currently run a location independent business from 2 blocks from the ocean in Peru. I feel fear often but I’ve made it my best friend. Thanks for this awesome article – sharing widely!!

  3. Ismo says

    Joel love what you have written, I struggle with fear also and getting over it has always been a challenge. But I work at dilligently. And Remind my self that I control the fear not the other way around.

  4. Julie Gordon White says

    Joel, I love your work! Keep showing me the way to live bolder and better and I promise not to let you down! Whoo hoo!! :) j.

  5. says

    Joel – Excellent post. It reminds me of one of my favorite quotes:

    “To fight a bull when you are not scared is nothing. And to not fight a bull when you are scared is nothing. But to fight a bull when you are scared is something.” – unknown

  6. Ryan says

    Like you, I was glued to my computer Sunday afternoon watching the prep, launch, ascent and jump. I was mesmerized by the entire thing. Here’s a guy who started his day just like I did. He got up out of his bed, put on his shoes and then proceeded to go to the edge of space and back. Like you’ve said in previous posts, all it takes is putting your shoes on and getting out the door. That’s all Felix did and he not only broke records, but he accomplished his dreams. All it took was one step.

  7. Rodney says

    Point 1. Joseph Kittinger was the real hero. He made a similar jump, from 19 miles up, waaaaaayyyyy back in 1960. BEFORE we had gone into space, before we knew all the things we know now, before we had all this modern technology. The fact that 50+ years have passed and all we’ve done is push the envelope by 6 miles is ridiculous.

    Point 2. Kittinger was also a fighter pilot in Vietnam. Real bravery is not doing things you are scared of. Real bravery is setting off into unknown territory. Getting into the cockpit each day not knowing what’s waiting for you out there takes balls. Going into the arena when you dont know what level of strength, stamina, and courage is going to be necessary to come back again is the problem. Well defined dangers are one thing, the complete unknown requires a whole other level of bravery. It is when you can’t plan, that real fear sets in. Imagine being told to run a race where you will be killed if you finish second, but not being told how long the race is. It might be 100 yards, it might be an ultra marathon. You can’t pace yourself. It’s 100%, 100% of the time.

    • says

      What a spiteful and pointless thing to say! You are completely missing the point of the jump and this article. Take your negative belittling attitude somewhere else.

  8. Brian Ball says

    Real “bravery” what is it?

    One thing I love about Joel is the connection he’s making between action and the reduction of the magical. On a foggy day, progress is still possible – maybe just a bit slower.

    Joel, thanks for reminding us that slow is not bad; slow may even be required; slow is not the opposite of bravery.

    Fear is just a reminder from our DNA, “hey, pay attention here; here in the unknown.”

    I resonate with all the comments here and that feels good.

    I’m getting ready to go jump in the water here in San Francisco for a fun triathlon our club is putting on. Is a no-wet-suit, open water swim in October “brave” – or is it just the slow realization that I’m not going to die (hopefully) and in an hour or two, I’ll be an inch braver than I was.

    Joel, here’s to a bit more bravery.

  9. says

    Great post. It is amazing how your fear, once you understand it, really doesn’t hold a grip. A few years ago, I was pretty afraid of heights. Anything over 30 feet up and I was very anxious. I could have gotten counseling, therapy, or just lived with the fear, but I decided to face my fears head on.

    My job at the time required me to work in industrial plants and often, pretty high up. Soon after I started, I was sent to an exhaust stack where I would be working at 500 feet (nothing compared to 24+ miles…). At first, I had to force myself to walk around on the walkway outside, but I did it. Then, I forced myself to look over the edge. Each time, it was easier. Each time, the fear retreated. I was beginning to learn to love what I feared.

    We all make choices in life. When Fearless Felix decided to set a few world records, he didn’t let something as minor as fear get in the way. He was committed to the mission. We all need to find the dedication in ourselves to overcome that much fear to do the impossible.

  10. martin says

    really like this post

    goes to show that everyone feels fear. it’s inevitable. it’s up to the individual who stands up to that fear. I remember a quote similar to this article: “feel the fear and do it anyways”. empowering stuff. thanks for sharing!

  11. says

    ” Great blog on being brave. It was 26 years ago I quit my oil field job and steady paycheck to pursue my dream of being a professional bronze artist .My son JC was 6 months old and my wife Lynne was expecting our daughter Natalie. Sometimes if you want to follow your dreams you have to be willing to take a risk and if you want it bad enough be willing to risk everything.I also rode bulls for 5 years and when I was getting on I used to tell myself that if your going to do something and you dont have a choice you might as well be brave.

  12. Mustafa says

    Great, that could have not been explained better. Take your fears and become interesting about it. What ever you are afraid of, become interesting about it or shake hands with it!

  13. David says

    I disagree to some extent with the author, largely because he Joel focused on the reward of gaining confidence..

    In my mind, bravery is like honor, you do things because it is moral, it is right. If you know you won’t be rewarded for your effort, only punished but you persevere forward regardless of this knowledge, then you are both brave and honorable. As I get older, I read the journals of my forefathers. The people they admire most are frequently the enemies they faced across the battlefield; largely because they exhibited the traits listed above. Traits I try to emulate, though I seem to fail more often than succeed.


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