Courage is not what I thought it was. I thought courage was to sacrifice myself on the altar of some great justice or ideal. I thought it was to be a superhero, pushing through any obstacle to achieve something great on behalf of others. Courage was the trait of the war hero dying an honorable death– courage fit for Hemingway. I thought courage had to be epic and loud and be witnessed by many to really count for anything. It is so obvious now that this courage was all about me and the identity I wished to inhabit, the character I wished to play in the awesome movie of my life– my ego’s version of courage.

Courage, in French, actually means strength of heart. I now experience courage as the champion for the inner truths of our hearts and souls. It is the thing that leads us to say yes, or no, or to stay silent. Modern courage can be much subtler and soft. Now I consider myself most courageous when it comes almost by surprise, like the time I stood beside my father’s deathbed and everything inside me broke apart, or the time I loved with my whole heart regardless of reciprocation. Courage is deeply personal. Courage has no universal measurement or hierarchy. Courage is beyond duality.

Modern courage is the willingness to take responsibility for our internal landscape and realize how that landscape impacts the world around us. Modern courage is the willingness to sacrifice the perceived ideal of ourselves to discover the real. We are our most courageous when we let go of that need to “get it right” and improvise our way through life. Modern courage is the woman in Baton Rouge standing peacefully before a loaded gun, or anyone vulnerably sharing with a family member their feelings on racism. It’s saying yes to marriage or divorce, it’s adopting a child or deciding not to have one. It’s doing the thing that Mom or Dad didn’t approve of, it’s taking or leaving the job, and it’s choosing love. It’s about being quiet enough to discover your truth in this very moment and then stepping towards it regardless of consequence.

Bristol Baughan is an Emmy-winning and Oscar-Nominated filmmaker, author, and private coach. She is a TED Fellow and Founder of Inner Astronauts, a custom experience and private coaching company supporting people in coming more fully alive in service to the world. Bristol holds a B.A. in International Studies from the American University School of International Service and an M.A. in Spiritual Psychology from the University of Santa Monica.

Artwork by Michelle Favin of Whys LA for Poppy & Seed. Connect with her @whyslosangeles.

In Your Inbox