Monday, June 3, 2013

I Wanna See You Be Brave

I believe that each dog comes into my life to teach me something important. Maus came into my life to teach me about courage - about how courage isn't just the big events like rushing into burning buildings or chasing down bad guys. Sometimes, courage is making little choices, baby steps that take you outside your comfort zone just a hair, until your comfort zone expands and you no longer even notice the triggers that once terrified you.

In November of 2012, I took up running. With my bum knee and asthma, I knew it would hurt. I knew it would be difficult. And I didn't know if it would be worth it. I used the Couch to 5K program to start small, and I gave myself permission to fail. It was okay if my asthma kicked up and I could only run for thirty seconds as long as I gave whatever I could on that day for that run - as long as I was honest with myself and promised not to try harder next time, but simply to try again to the best of my ability. Little baby steps until today, seven months later, when I'm running three and half miles solid three days a week and looking forward to it, of all the bizarre thoughts.

One of the intriguing aspects to running was the way my attitude about my body changed. I've never been one of those girls what hates they way they look and refuses to have her picture taken, but it wasn't hard for me to look in the mirror and see more flaws than beauty. But as my body redesigned itself for running - bigger thighs and butt, smaller chest, bits that society dictates are Of The Bad - I found that I liked what I saw. I like the way my clothes fit me now, but more than that, I like what my body can do. Me, someone who can trip over her Crocs on bare linoleum, I am athletic enough to run for miles. And I have the mental fortitude to run in rain, snow, sleet, and dark of night. I mean, dude, what can't I do? For the first time in my life, I am proud of my body and the things we can do.

Photo by Paige.

With my new confidence, I started looking at other areas in my life that I wanted to change. While I love my dog training gig with the rescue, I've been doing it for a few years now, and I've started to feel like I'm stagnating. I've gotten into a rhythm, hit my stride, but I'm also not learning anything new in my little comfort zone. So when Pawsabilities offered me a position teaching their behavior classes, I . . . well, I ran and hide under a rock for bit.

I'm told that I have a pathological amount of anxiety. I don't know, I've only lived inside my own head and therefore have nothing to compare myself to, but I know how very hard it was to me to accept the position. To drive myself to class the first night. You'd think that after seven years of teaching and five years of teaching just behavior classes, I wouldn't have been shaking like a leaf on my first day, but I was. I even begged the students to be nice to me - and I wasn't even kidding.

And now? Well, I'm doing okay. It turns out that fear-based reactivity is a whole different ballgame from the Tarzan dogs I'm used to working with, but I think I'm holding my own. I'm certainly learning a lot. It helps that I've got a really strong co-teacher and friend to lean on. It also helps that I've given myself permission to suck as long as I show up every week and give it my best effort. After all, the first step to being good at something is sucking at it, and I'm planning to be awesome.

If accepting an additional job dog training made me anxious, then changing the path of my career this month was f^&@&*% terrifying. I liked my clinic job. I was good - no, scratch that, I was awesome at my clinic job. I kicked ass at it, but I also knew that I did not want to be doing that job ten years from now. So when a position opened up in brain sciences research, I agonized over it. I panicked over each bit of the application process (and let me tell you, applying for a government job is a pain in the butt without oodles of anxiety on top of it). I staggered through the interview in awe of the whole department. I may have blacked out when they offered me the position. 

A week and a half into my new job and I'm smitten. So much new knowledge and information right at my finger tips! I get to be a big part of ridiculously important research. I get to make my own hours. And when I get giddy about the effects of ApoE on cognition or the clinical uses of fMRI, I don't get tolerant amusement or glazed expressions - I'm surrounded by people who get nerdy right along with me.

My new jobs will not change my life. Running will not change my life. Maus will not change my life. The choices I make, the person I chose to be, these are the things that will alter me and the course of my future. Sometimes, courage is choosing to be okay with failure. Sometimes, courage is choosing to work with a certain dog instead of sending him back to the rescue. Sometimes, it's showing up, being present, and putting one foot in front of the other. Sometimes, courage is just closing your eyes and clicking the "submit" button. Little steps, little choices, these make me who I am.

And I choose to be brave.

Photo by Sara T.


  1. " I'm surrounded by people who get nerdy right along with me. "


  2. “And one has to understand that braveness is not the absence of fear but rather the strength to keep on going forward despite the fear.”

    ― Paulo Coelho

    Keep on being brave, it suits you!

  3. Brave doesn't count if you're not scared.

    -- me