Do The Thing You Think You Cannot Do: A Coward’s Guide To Becoming Brave

Me with the lovely and talented Miss Vivienne VaVoom

Last weekend I had the opportunity to hear New York Times best-selling author Richard Paul Evans speak. Although he’s sold millions of copies of his books, I’d never read one of them so I had no idea what to expect from his speech or what, if anything, I might glean from it to help me on my own personal book journey. He spoke about the realm of self-publishing and what it takes these days to become a best-selling author. He was engaging and personable, full of positive energy and self-confidence, which is probably how he has gotten as far as he has because publishing is a difficult business that can diminish even the bravest souls. I watched him carefully, trying to determine if I had the same chutzpah he does, wondering if I could be bold. Then, he made a statement that caught my attention: “Every time I take risks, my life gets better.”

I’ve been repeating that statement to myself for five days now. As it has flipped over and over in my head like a rock in a tumbler, it has become shinier and brighter and more attention worthy. Life does get better when we take risks. We get nowhere when we are cautious or fearful. We stagnate when fail to use our imagination. The accomplishments in my life of which I am most proud were only realized after I’d been willing to move in a direction that made me uncomfortable in some way. I probably haven’t been uncomfortable enough often enough.

But, there have been moments when I did take what I felt was a personal risk. At those times, I’ve definitely come away a better person than I was before I began. I once took a dance class from burlesque queen Vivenne VaVoom. This required me to rehearse, create a costume and persona, and perform for an audience. I became much more self-confident after that exposure. And, there was my master’s thesis. It was a three year ordeal that I nearly didn’t finish because I had a child and then became pregnant with child number two. All the while my yet incomplete thesis postured on my desk and hurled taunts at me: You’re not good enough. No one really cares what you have to say, anyway. You think you’re special or something? Still, I pushed myself. I wrote while my son sat in his exersaucer in the room with me. I edited while he slept. I wrote four rough drafts before my thesis director was ready to let me defend. I flew back to Illinois for my defense, pregnant and nauseous, but I at last earned my master’s degree. In doing so, I learned that even with kids I could accomplish goals I set.

Now, I prepare for another uncomfortable risk as I stand on the precipice of authorship. It’s scary up here. I’ve started writing, but I’m not sure if I’m heading in the right direction. I do know, though, that my life will not get better if I don’t take this risk. Still, I’m talking to myself a lot to steel my nerves: You can do this. You’ve got it in you. Believe in yourself.  The part of me that is angry with myself for not taking this risk sooner gets a regular backhanded smack from the part of me that knows that I could not have attempted this in my 20’s because I wasn’t brave enough then. I needed these extra 20 years to set down firm roots so I could begin to inch ever so slowly up and out of myself. Above my head at my writing desk is this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…do the thing you think you cannot do.” Writing a book has always been the one thing I was sure I could not do. I wanted to do it. I just didn’t think I could. I’m setting out and taking a risk to prove myself wrong and to create a better, stronger, wiser me.

What is the thing you have told yourself that you cannot do? Are you brave enough to risk it to see if your life gets better? What is one risk you have taken that made your life better? Please share your stories because I need all the inspiration I can get as I continue this journey.


  1. Funny, I’m thinking along the same lines. I want to write a book, and have thought about for a long time. Time to start doing, I say. I don’t think I could have done it years ago either and now with my kids slightly older, I think the time is now. I hope so anyway. You should go for it. You can do it! Why not?! You have what it takes.

      1. Thank you! I really mean it. I think writing a book may be daunting, but not impossible. I think so long as you are disciplined and stick to it, eventually the book will come. It sounds like you’re doing all the right steps by learning as much as you can about it. Best of luck! You can do it.

  2. My biggest risk is the risk of never being absolutely certain of anything. (As I recently read in a book the opposite of faith is not doubt but certainty,) Most of my life I have been in the middle of a tight rope trying to keep balanced nd wanting and not wanting – at the same time-to merely let go for the tepidity of the safety net. The greatest risk we all face is risk itself. I’m with you Justine.

    1. Thanks, Bonnie. I do think that Richard Paul Evans was probably right. I bet if we were brave enough, most of our calculated risks would make our lives better…at least because we had been brave, tried something, tested ourselves, and grown in the process.

  3. Bear in mind Mrs.Roosevelt’s careful choice of words. She doesn’t say “TRY to do the thing you think you cannot do.”, nor does she espouse “Do what others say can’t be done.”.
    “Do the thing…” is a statement of fact. Not an attempt. It WILL be done!
    “…the thing YOU THINK you cannot do.” simply ties it up. It’s not something you KNOW you CAN’T DO (such as fly). It’s not something OTHERS think you can’t do. You get the idea.

    A tangential thought: “Failure is not fatal.” (Except in like skydiving or scuba diving, but you know what I mean.)
    I fail all the time. Failing is easy! I’m a VERY ACCOMPLISHED failer! I “fail forward”, another way of saying I try to learn from mistakes & experiences.
    Really (except for the skydiving/scuba-type stuff), what’s the worst that can happen?

    So if you’re not a rich & famous published author now, and you fail, so you’ll still be NOT a rich & famous published author. But think of the great stories you’ll live and learn along the way. The journey!

    Take care and keep in touch.


    1. Thanks for the thoughtful post, Paz. You’re right. If I try and fail, the worst thing I’m out is time. I think there’s nothing worse than regret. And, if you know you will regret not trying something, not speaking your mind, not following your heart, you HAVE to do the thing. If I do end up 95 years old and trapped with a thoughtful mind in a broken down body in a nursing home, I want to spend my days thinking about what I got out of life and not what I missed out on. Have a great day!

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