When I was developing the nnoodl business model I hosted a few focus groups where I invited people to critique the idea and contribute to some key words which summed up the concept. This is where the phrase "for the bold, the brave and the curious" came from. I was keen that the concept didn't instil fear in people though, or lead them to think that all of the activities were adrenaline led or sports focused. The word 'brave' though was one which came up again and again as people identified it as being aspirational. Attending an event on your own for a start, many of them thought required a certain amount of courage. Putting yourself in the hands of someone else also required some bravery, and trying something new, whatever it was, certainly did.
But what does 'being brave' actually mean? The dictionary definition of brave is 'ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage' The origin of the word brave come from the Latin word barbarus. The Spanish then developed this to bravo which translates to courageous, untamed or savage. Let's go with courageous!
I really enjoy getting feedback from people who have come to my events and experience that rush they get from pushing themselves out of their comfort zone. I loved the year that I spent trying new things out for myself. I definitely felt a sense of fear in some form before each activity I did. I remember turning up to climb over the O2, and wasn't so much fearful of the activity as the fact that I was there on my own doing it. Well, along with a stag doo of 14 guys it turned out! I love water, but how did I feel before my first attempt at paddle boarding in the Thames? Filled with panic. And the biggest challenge must have been my first singing lesson which I almost cancelled. My life would be very different now without singing!
People have often described me as brave, but despite all of the above, I still feel far from it. I have never had the desire to do a bungee or parachute jump, and my fear of cycling downhills is pretty well known.
I was keen to know what the word 'bravery' meant to other people, and here are some of the responses. They range from people who are facing personal challenges in life, to some of my cycling buddies...
One thing that has struck me in the people I have spoken to is the perspective that women have about bravery. The more digging I do, the more I think I realise why females can have a very different approach to it. A friend recently shared this YouTube link below with me about a Ted Talk from Caroline Paul. She explains how girls are often told to 'be careful', whereas boys are encouraged to climb trees, skateboard etc as the norm. This very much resonates with me. As a child I was quite 'sickly'. As a baby I was in and out of hospital with breathing problems. Sadly, a year before I was born, I had a brother who had died as a baby. My parents were naturally protective of me. My memories of my childhood are were very much of being 'looked after' and protected from harm. I'm not a parent, but I can understand this. Ironically, as a child of about 5 or 6 years old, I was secretly latching onto my older brother and his friends and doing activities such as jumping off garages and rolling down hills of stinging nettles to be 'one of the gang' to show I wasn't scared. I remember one particular incident where I was tasked with trying to get something out of a tree by throwing a brick up at it. Obviously this resulted in the brick landing back square on my forehead. I bore that egg shaped lump on my head for about a week. Surely this sort of activity should have set me up for life as a 'brave person'? Well in theory yes, but as soon as my parents got wind of my behaviour, along with worried reports from neighbours, well this sort of activity was well and truly quashed as 'too dangerous'. So whilst my brother continued to play on building sites (one of my favourite things of the time), I was encouraged to 'be careful'. At the age of 10 I developed asthma and even passed out having the blood test for that! It seemed my life was destined to be one of caution.
Have a look at Caroline's Ted Talk below where she talks about getting out our comfort zone, calling on resilience - and how these are the elements of bravery. She cautions against instilling fear in our children, as if this is the primary reaction we won't push ourselves out of our comfort zone. Bravery, she says, is learned, and like anything else it needs to be practised. 'Risky play' teaches hazard assessment, it teaches resilience and it teaches bravery.
Someone else championing the idea of bravery, especially in women and girls is Lee Craigie. As the figurehead behind The Adventure Syndicate, Lee aims to increase self-belief and confidence in others. She also sites one of her own fears as "..getting to the end to the end of my life and thinking "if only I had....".Having produced the documentary film 'Divided' with Rickie Cotter about their emotional attempt to do the arduous 'Tour Divide' event, Lee said "My hope is that this film will show camaraderie, cooperation and collaboration, and show women who are not following the traditional model and are going against the flow and having a ball. Not listening to the people who say it is not possible and that it is a bit dangerous, and I think that is a really powerful message for teenage girls".
And so the subject has come back to cycling again, a pastime close to my heart. But when I think of the things that I did on my first self supported cycling trip last year in South America, what were the things that I consider to be 'brave'? Was it cycling down that scary as hell road of many switchbacks? Or the accidental rerouting down a dual carriageway, narrowly avoiding passing lorries? Or possibly the 'non-avoidance' of traffic when I was knocked off my bike by a bus? No, none of these things were undertaken deliberately, but put in our path as the route was changed out of necessity. One of my travelling colleagues said he thought that the 'braver' elements of that trip were probably the fact that I went on my own, only knowing one of the of the group; the months of organisation and endless preparation. Setting up my own tent for the first time even. I do remember in the run up to that trip that although I had a slight concern about being at altitude for the first time, it was the thought of actually getting myself, a bike in a cardboard box and 35k of kit halfway across the world to the starting point via the various flights that gave me anxiety dreams.
For me though, the thing that really fills me with fear is the thought of looking stupid, or publicly failing at something. I have shied away from many a public speaking opportunity, and despite my love of flamenco guitar, have made myself feel physically sick at the thought of just playing on my own in front of my peers at flamenco workshop opportunities in Seville. Having built up to my first singing lesson two years ago, I have made an excuse for every open mic singing opportunity that has come my way. This year, I decided, it was time to step off that scary ledge and perform at my 50th birthday party. My wonderful friend Cath and I had been talking about a song that meant a lot to both of us for various reasons - 'Titanium' by David Guetta and Sia. It is a song about overcoming fear, and so resonated with us both. Why not go one step further I thought and try to do some arpeggio style guitar playing at the same time? Oh hell, let's add another song, 'Losing my Religion' by REM.
And so, despite working myself up into a frenzy before the big night, and (kind of) jokingly asking one of my friends if she still had beta blockers, I DID it.
OK, so I wasn't on my own, but having the attention of about 70 people focussed on me was a big deal. The feeling afterwards was quite euphoric. It made me feel that I could achieve more. (Important to point out that the actual performance was of course MUCH better than the quality of this video, which is thankfully so dark you can't see the fear on my face!)
So to sum up the the reason for bravery, it is something which will help you grow and develop to accomplish your life goals. As Caroline Paul said, bravery is something which needs to be practised.
Am I brave? No, but I am definitely going to practise bravery more!
As is customary with my blogs, I will finish off with a couple of songs which I think sum up the mood. One is 'Not Afraid' by Eminem, and the other, a favourite of mine which reminds me to be braver on those hills, 'Driving with the Brakes On' by Del Amitri.
If you are thinking about doing something just a little bit brave this year, sign up for the next nnoodl event on Saturday 9th June. I can assure you it will NOT be scary, or involve you being put on the spot, just a great opportunity to meet with fellow adventurers, and give yourself that tiny push out of your comfort zone...
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.