Monday, December 5, 2016

Go With Courage

I like to say I have the soul of a pioneer but the heart of a realist. The idea of adventure is intoxicating to me but following through creates numbing stress and sleepless nights full of worry.

I fear change.

I suppose everyone fears change to some degree—some people are just better at tackling that fear than others. I am sure that even Susa Young Gates, one of the feistiest and most outspoken women to set foot on the BYU campus, felt somewhat nervous when at age thirteen she started college at the University of Deseret. I imagine that she felt her confidence challenged a year later when she became co-editor of the college’s newspaper.

Yet we would not know her story if she had let fear define her.  

Women like Susa Young Gates inspire me. They are the feeders of my pioneer soul. A year ago I decided I needed to stop reading about their lives and live an adventure of my own. So I signed up for a four-month trip to China to teach English to children.

“No, I don’t speak Mandarin,” I would reply to everyone who asked, each question sending a mist of doubt onto the already small flame of confidence I had in my decision. No, I don’t have any friends there. No, I don’t know how I’m going to pay for it. No, I don’t have any idea what I’m doing.

I lied to everyone and told them I was excited and ready to go.

“I would never do that,” they told me. “You’re so brave.”

But I didn’t feel brave. I felt afraid.

Still I went. I look back on my time in China now with great fondness and bittersweet memory. What was once such a foreign and frightening place turned into a land of unique culture and dynamic lifestyles. Overcrowded cities shaped into mountains jutting towards the heavens in the blink of an overnight train ride. Groups of giggling teenage girls would blush furiously as they asked us in broken English for a photo, leaving with earnest cries of “Nǐ hěn piào liang!”—you are beautiful.

Just as I had sunk my teeth into this new place it was time for me to leave. Of all the changes I had feared four months earlier, the one I had not been expecting was one within myself. It changed me in ways I didn’t know needed to be changed. My confidence increased, my awareness was amplified, and my capacity to love grew.

That is the beauty of courage. I think Gates knew that. I think she knew that courage is not suddenly losing doubts and worry as a task approaches. I am sure that when she founded the Utah Women’s Press Club, when she became press chairman of the National Council of Women, when she set out to found the music department at Brigham Young Academy while still a student, Susa Young Gates felt discouragement and fear and doubt. But she knew that the results of her endeavors would mean more to the world than the lack of her actions.

Courage will change you. But I am learning that change can be good. My experience in China was the hardest thing I have ever done and the best decision I ever made. I am not the same person now that I was before. But we weren’t created to stay the same, were we? We were created to dare and to leap and to soar. We were created to be courageous. 

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