Reflecting on Micro-Bravery

As you may have heard, the Office of Health Promotion invited speaker Rachel Simmons to campus this past Friday for her talk called “Braver in 75 Minutes.” My wide-open schedule on Friday left me looking for something to do, and the title of her talk was intriguing, so my friend and I decided to test out the assertion and see if Rachel Simmons really could really make us feel braver in 75 minutes.

Simmons talked about self-criticism, our fear of failure, and taking ourselves out of the running before we even give ourselves a chance to compete because we automatically assume we are not good enough. I found myself resonating with all of her anecdotes and diagnoses of our society, especially at a school like Boston College, where students strive for an unwavering competitive edge. Have you taken the dry, easy A over the class where the subject genuinely interests you but the workload or intimidatingly brilliant professor may scare you away? As much as we might like to deny it, who here isn’t guilty of having taken the path of least resistance at one time or another? It isn’t just our precious GPAs that we prioritize at the expense of trying out challenging, rewarding classes. I’ve seen—and experienced—this phenomenon with job applications, tryouts, and even friendships, where we fear exposing ourselves too honestly and vulnerably. We become too afraid to admit we’re earnestly trying at something that may reject us.

Simmons’s solution? She calls it micro-bravery. It is not necessarily fearlessly going after the biggest, most glittery accomplishments we can muster up the courage to pursue, but merely attempting the little goals that may (or may not) be successful. Your first throw of a football was probably in a game of catch with Dad in the backyard, not an NFL playoff game. Why should our ambitions and goals be any different? Our sense of courage and ability to fail, like our capacity to play sports, are traits we learn and build up over time. They must start small and be practiced.

So I decided to put Simmons’s theory to the test and try out some of my own moments of “micro-bravery.” I walked down the hall in Ruby and introduced myself to a room full of neighbors I hadn’t met yet. I volunteered to do a reading for the morning liturgy in St. Mary’s chapel. I struck up a conversation with a classmate I had never spoken to while we were in line for salads in Eagle’s. While none of these acts were resume-worthy, Simmons was right: There is an addictive thrill in taking risks, no matter how small. Maybe nothing more will come from these micro-braveries, but sometimes we ourselves can’t predict the beneficial outcomes of even the tiniest acts of small-scale courage.

Haven’t we all experienced one of those little moments that turns into something more? My moment occurred on July 4, 2010. It was the summer before my freshman year of high school, and I was at a Fourth of July party full of semi-strangers at a cabin in Wisconsin. I felt a hand grab mine and found myself getting dragged by my mom’s family friend over to an unfamiliar face. “Marta, this is Ann. Ann, Marta. You guys are both going to Visitation for high school next year.” And with that brief introduction, she left us to try and fill the awkward silence her absence created. I’m not even going to try and sugarcoat it: We stumbled through our forced engagement pretty clumsily. Nevertheless, we both silently ignored the urge to retreat back to our respective families at the first polite opportunity and summoned the courage to keep talking.

Was it pretty awkward? Oh, incredibly. But we gave each other a chance. And guess what? We both recovered. Certainly neither one of us acted like a shining example of courage, but it was just enough micro-bravery to lay the foundation for a friendship that neither one of us could have foreseen.

That girl from the Fourth of July party eight years ago? We ended up becoming best friends over the next four years of high school. I guess we even liked each other enough that we consented to sharing a college and ended up here at BC together. Fast forward four more years, and we’re about to walk on stage together at our graduation ceremony in May with four years as roommates, eight years as classmates, and more than eight years as friends. Had it not been for the forced encounter and our micro-bravery that day, I may have never met the girl I now consider to be one of my most permanent and cherished friends.

So what is the point of it all? Simply put, society will likely always ask us to bring forward the best version of ourselves in college applications, sports, job interviews, and friendships. But we need to change our mindset to realize that “best” is not synonymous with “perfect,” and that a little stumble here and there is all part of the process. If I stopped trying with Ann because she saw me at my most awkward, imperfect, pre-high school self, I would have missed out on a friendship I now can’t imagine my world without. Micro-bravery doesn’t mean entering the game with perfect performance to guarantee you will win. It means putting yourself out there even when your blemished track record means you might lose.

So go ahead and pursue your own micro-bravery. You just might be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. And if that’s not the case and you end up falling flat on your face, let me leave you with one of my favorite quotes:

“A mistake that makes you humble is better than an achievement that makes you arrogant.”

Featured Graphic by Nicole Chan / Graphics Editor