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World Mag > World Magazine Spring 2021 Edition - Courage > Michaela Young - Six attributes of COURAGE

Michaela Young - Six attributes of COURAGE

Courage is defined as the ability to do something that frightens one. I will consider courage and adaptability in terms of owning your insecurities and being authentically yourself.

I was asked to write this article by the beautiful Fabiana, someone who is about as inspirational a woman as I have ever met. So when she said that she would like me to write about courage and adaptability, about starting my own business, about repatriating during a pandemic, I was quite frankly, shocked. 

That's because I don’t consider myself to be brave at all. Not compared to anyone else and the struggles others go through. My immediate reaction was to try to avoid talking about myself and make this an academic article. I could write about the psychological theories behind courage and adaptability, and then I get to play the role of academic, and don’t have to open up about my own feelings and thoughts. I realise, however, that this is a form of avoidance. I have done a lot of soul searching and reflection lately. I realise that this avoidance is a coping mechanism. But what am I trying to shy away from? What am I afraid of in being honest about myself and being vulnerable? Upon reflecting on this internal dialogue, I decided that this might be the best way to tackle this article. To focus on what it means to open up and share yourself authentically. Courage is defined as the ability to do something that frightens one. I will consider courage and adaptability in terms of owning your insecurities and being authentic to yourself. As many young people do, I struggled a lot with my own insecurities. I wasn't popular at school, and struggled to find my way. Many people deal with insecurities by fading into the background.
Others deal with their fears and insecurities by perfectionism and high achieving. I was definitely in the latter category. If I sacrifice my needs for others to control how others see me and keep achieving at a high level, then people will like me, people will accept me, I’ll be “good enough”. There is nothing remarkable about that narrative. I’ve spoken to countless young people who have told me the same inner monologue in my career. As I got older I gained confidence. I found my people, I felt secure and loved, I grew in my confidence in my career. I felt empowered to travel, and then eventually to move overseas. In my alternate life as an opera singer I performed on stages in front of hundreds and sometimes thousands of people. I wasn’t afraid. Up until recently, I felt that I had dealt very  well with my insecurities from childhood. But something was missing. Although I was calm most of the time, I found myself still getting upset and hurt by things that seem small. And the worst part is I was beating myself up for having these emotions, or brushing them off as silly. 

One of the things that is a blessing and a curse about being a psychologist is understanding perfectly all of your flaws, where they come from and how they are maintained. As I move through different stages of my life, this knowledge helps and hinders me in a variety of ways.

As a grade 11 student learning about psychology for the first time, I felt empowered and equipped with a new knowledge to understand myself and those around me. As a new psychologist helping people with serious alcohol and drug issues, I felt humbled and honoured to be able to provide the people I worked with some dignity and assistance in the traumatic worlds in which they lived.

I felt equipped to help myself also with a new set of skills from the therapeutic approach, acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT). The words of Steven Hayes and Russ Harris, the ACT gurus, have been my mantra for the last ten years. This therapeutic approach centres around themes of acceptance of acceptance and a life of committed action based on values. It has helped me to identify what is important to me and try to live my best life. However, I’ve found that perhaps even that is not enough. I’ve found myself lately realising that even equipped with all the knowledge in the world, I avoid and brush away my feelings. I harshly criticize myself and I let other people treat me badly. So this year, I have decided to do something I' ve never fully done before. I’m going to put myself out there without apology. I'm going to let myself be vulnerable and be OK with that. So here I’ll use some pop psychology to outline what this means in terms of courage.

Melanie Greenberg describes six attributes of courage:
Although I was asked to write this article about courageousness in terms of starting my own business, for me that wasn’t a particularly courageous act. In Australia, the health system is well equipped for private practice, and setting up a business wasn’t something that I was particularly afraid of. However, putting myself out there, making a website, making a brand and marketing myself on social media, that was frightening. If you put yourself out there and say "I can do this", there is more risk of failure.

This one comes with a pang of sadness for me. I have always followed my heart to an extent, but there has always been part of me that's been too afraid to fully pursue a career in music. I decided to do this, despite my fears, in 2020. However, the pandemic well and truly postponed that plan. Although I’m disappointed about this, to be honest coming home was, in a way, a relief that I could delay facing this fear a bit longer. However I have managed to face my fear as a performer in other ways. I’ve posted my recordings on social media, even though they are far from perfect.

I put on my very own concert to a very happy and grateful audience. I’m facing my fears as an actor and allowing myself to be vulnerable and connect with emotion and let go of over thinking. 

I think compared to most people in the world, the adversity I’ve faced is fairly minor. However, I think this is where the other part of the article - adaptability - comes in. I think for many of us, adaptability can be a blessing and a curse. As someone who is very adaptable, I’ve managed to mould myself to different cultures, groups and communities. This is beneficial to allow for fitting in with people no matter  where you are in the world. However, I see a downside to my adaptability too. I have moulded myself so many times to fit a norm or be the version of myself that I think people want to see, that sometimes I forget who I am, who is the true me. 

As a psychologist, social justice is a very important part of what I do and my values. I don’t find it frightening to stand up for the underdog and fight for what I believe is right. However, facing my own blind spots and admitting my own judgments elicits a new level of fear. This requires an ownership of my flaws and my potential for harming others that takes a lot of soul searching to find the courage to do.

I think for most of us who live in the international school sphere, this is one we have all faced at some point and probably become quite good at. However, does it get any easier the more you do it? For me, travelling overseas and living in a different country brought its share of challenges, but I think the real fear comes from doing things outside of our comfort zone. That doesn’t necessarily mean travelling, as some of us feel comfortable doing that. Perhaps it means sticking around and working through a conflict in a friendship rather than moving on. Or deciding that we want to settle down somewhere that we really like.

Upon first reading this, it seemed to imply that we should suffer through our emotions and hold a stiff upper lip. But I prefer to interpret this in the way that it’s OK to show vulnerability. This is where true dignity comes. We can show vulnerability and admit our flaws and not have to cover up or pretend to be OK. For me, this is where my main work on myself is happening at the moment. I realise I still have a long  way to go, but this is the courage that I am trying to find for now. 

Michaela Young,
former AISB Secondary Counselor

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