By: Beatriz Craven, PhD, Guest BloggerOctober 6, 2015
I would consider myself an optimistic person. I would even go so far as to say idealist. This shield of positivity coated with a stroke of delusion and naïveté has served me well more times than not. I tend to leap head first into my endeavors and am often surprised at what I accomplish (these days I've found myself in adventure travel writing when not running my business as a psychologist - is this real life?). It recently occurred to me that what I view as impulsivity or blind passion for my goals, might come off as bravery or inspiration to others. I can feel myself gagging over those words already, but this is precisely the point I'm trying to get at:
we leave sparks of inspiration that often go unnoticed by ourselves but are picked up by others.
If asked to describe myself, I would never in my wildest dreams put words like inspirational or brave on the list. I want to reject those words immediately because I don't feel worthy of the label. I know I don't deserve it.
Don't other people see that I don't know what I'm doing half the time when chasing my dreams? If I'm really being honest and fair with myself, I'm probably brave sometimes, usually when I'm less aware of myself and focusing on the task at hand. I'm wondering if setting a goal to be brave sometimes might even be more powerful than setting a goal to be brave, this big title that seems more fit for a gladiator than a person like me. This is when a new realization starts to blow my mind.
It takes a spark to start a fire. And sometimes, we don't even know that we've set sparks flying through our actions. I heard this really disconcerting study about our tendency to be impacted by others but then never actually sharing this with them. I took a quick glance into my memory bank and rummaged through moments when I was impacted by someone. I fell perfectly into the statistic. I usually don't tell people about the impression they leave on my life (unless it was a more obvious time like a thank-you card when closing a chapter). If I did, it was a definite exception to the rule. A lot of times we're impacted by mentors like teachers, friends, or family. You know, from those wise "teaching moments." But what's crazier still is how affected we are by the more casual interactions. These are the less obvious moments that go unthanked.
I started to make some connections in my head and an old memory surfaced. I was sitting in traffic and I saw a homeless person making his way slowly down the line of cars. I was new to the city and didn't run into this in the suburbs. I had nothing to give so I looked away out of shame and fear of drawing too much attention to myself. My value of being caring toward my fellow man and my ultimate inaction didn't align in that moment.
It created a deeply unsettled feeling in my gut. I wanted to do more than share a buck but I never actually did anything about it. I have a friend who dedicates her life to helping the homeless and underserved. She immerses herself into this work and I find her incredibly brave (although I know for a fact she would dismiss this title in about .05 seconds). I say that I want to help my homeless brothers and sisters more but that desire often gets stuck on my list of "things I want to be better at."
Her actions sent a spark of inspiration in my direction and I decided to grab onto it. I finally sat down, did some research on resources in my community for things like medical care, food, shelter, and mental health counseling to help folks get back on their feet again. I made gift bags that included these resources and essentials like water, a snack, and clean socks. Then, instead of changing the world I let these bags sit in the back seat of my car for weeks.
Spark 2: I was sitting at a red light when I saw an older homeless gentleman asking for assistance on the side of the road. He started to walk in my direction and I could feel myself growing tense and hesitant. As I hovered with my finger over the button to lower my window I could feel myself getting more aware of my small frame, my female gender, and my being alone - the perfect formula for things like robbery, murder, or rape in a woman's mind. I was chickening out. But then spark 2 flies in my direction.
The car in front of me lowers their window and I see an arm stretch out and hand the man something. The spark lights up my courage and so I lower my window too. The gentleman and I share a brief interaction. He looks me in the eyes and gives me a blessing I don't feel I deserve. I know that if it weren't for the doers around me, I never would have done any of it.
But here's the thing: the more I reflect on it the more I think that maybe there is no such thing as a "brave" person. Maybe that's why even the most obviously courageous people reject such a label. They don't feel brave. They experience these all-too-human fears too but they just decide to take action anyway. In this case, other people's sparks lit a fire for me.
By making the active choice to grab onto those sparks and actually do something with them, I may unknowingly send sparks flying in someone else's direction. Over time I feel more and more comfortable putting myself out there in this situation that I've been conditioned to fear. In this one little action I feel that much closer to living out the values I hold dear. And hopefully, it will make even the tiniest ripple effect towards helping folks.
This freedom to simply be brave sometimes through the act of doing can be just what we need to create transformation. We can liberate ourselves from feeling unworthy of taking a seat at the table of doers we deem the "brave ones." Maybe it turns out that table is just a table of people. Ones who took a step in a direction that sent sparks flying. Maybe that's how they set the world on fire. One spark-filled step at a time.
When have you let a "spark" inspire or energize you to take action, no matter how small? Tell us below!
Dr. Craven has an insatiable curiosity about the human condition and the meaning of life. She is the boss lady of Modern Therapy, PLLC, her private practice for individuals experiencing life distress such as anxiety, depression, and existential concerns (i.e. who the heck am I and why am I here?). She is a dreamer, goal-setter, and supporter of her fellow gal.
Every girl is a work in progress. If you need more help, click here.