Tag Archives: courage

Keeping it Real, while Keeping the Faith (Inspiration Series, Week 34)

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Matt Haig’s willingness to share his story of living with depression and anxiety has earned him a special place in the hearts of his fans.

One of the coolest things, in the midst of all the noise we face each day, is finding new voices that speak about things in a way we haven’t heard before. Every so often, through all of the clanging, something squeaks through that resonates.

I’m not sure where or how, exactly, I came across Matt Haig on Twitter, but he quickly became someone who I looked for each day. He had fought anxiety and depression like so many people I know; what made him different was a commitment to sharing his experiences—the good, the bad, and the ugly—and showing just how normal we really were.

Matt wrote a memoir, Reasons to Stay Alive, about the internal battles he waged in his 20s, when he reached the deep end of depression. He describes the spiraling, the panic attacks, in a candid, self-effacing style that resonates with so many.

friends and family may not always understand the demons we confront, but Matt does. He empathizes with our pain, but also takes us through to the other side, where it doesn’t god such a tight grip. We see that he didn’t stay in the darkness, but instead found enough slivers of light to eventually break up the clouds. He reminds us that the things that can feel real and scary are often tricks our depressed minds are playing on us.

Matt’s life story continues—he worked his way through that dark period and has gone on to write more than a dozen books. His latest, “How to Stop Time”, about a man who’s been alive since 1581, became a bestseller. And just to add a cherry on top, the book was optioned for a movie and will star the great Benedict Cumberbatch.

Talk about rising up. And yet…

What made me choose Matt Haig as an Inspirer was not that he’s vanquished the pain, or even left it completely behind. Sure, he’s spent months on a book tour (and bestseller lists), received all kinds of accolades and opportunities. But as he’d head back to his hotel room, even after a day filled with recognition, he shares with is that the old fears and feelings are sometimes waiting for him.

And so he is fierce in his messaging on mental illness and how bad we humans are at recognizing its impact. He celebrates sensitivity and let’s us know we are not weak for feeling the invisible pains that seem to drain our lives of the happiness we deserve.

Matt argues that we should not capitulate to societal norms telling us that there are unbreakable rules for how to be in the world. He decries the unwritten standards of stoicism and instead urges true, honest expressions of feeling, even the bad ones.

He is not oblivious to the fact that the platforms he uses to reach out, including to those most in need of a friendly voice, are the same ones where we humans too often tear each other down. But while he’s not above snark, or strongly expressing his views, his baseline remains kindness.

To me, it is his commitment to spreading compassion for the unhappy among us that stands out. The sheer openness in telling the sad parts of his history, the times when he was not able to be his best. The direct advice to a fan who is experiencing a hard time, and the congratulations to another who has overcome a phobia and achieved something new.

Life is a strange experiment. We form groups, we make commitments, we cooperate to get things done. And yet each one of us falls asleep and wakes up in our individual bodies and mindsets. We learn our strengths and faults and work hard to use the former while pushing down the latter. We don’t always succeed.

For whatever reason—genetics, brain composition, experience—a segment of us often finds difficult what comes naturally to the rest. While we crave connection, it can feel too scary to reach out. And so, we often suffer silently, believing that it is at least our duty to keep the bad stuff quiet, rather than spread it around.

Despite our shaky records of self nurturing, with some work, we can learn to see beyond our marred self-images to a more kind, more real understanding of all we have to offer. And we can find guides—Inspirers—who show us that despite a world that can feel like a mass of bogs and quicksand, there are actually a whole array of paths we can choose to take. Including, and especially, the ones we forge on our own.

A Twitter follower asked Matt, “How do you keep going in hard times?” His response:

“By remembering I have felt like that before. By remembering I felt there was no hope, when there was. By realising things can change. If you felt differently before you will feel differently again. Low points give the worst perspective. Keep on. You can.”

As I begin another leg of my own journey, with a bit more gratitude each day, I will remember to look out for these guides along the way.

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Courage & Convictions (Inspiration Series, Week 32)

Malala was just 17—the youngest recipient ever—when she received the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, with Kailash Satyarthi, for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.

When I was 15, my biggest concerns were how i would get through another day of chemistry, learning all the words to Total Eclipse of the Heart, and if I’d ever have a date.

When Malala Yousafzai was 15, she was recovering from a bullet that went through her head and neck after an assassination attempt by members of the Taliban.

The reason? She wanted girls to be educated.

Born in Pakistan into a Sunni Muslim family, Malala was greatly influenced by her father, Ziauddin, a poet, school owner, and educational activist. He recognized early on that his daughter was special and took the time to encourage her thoughts and learning. It was a difficult time, as the Taliban began to move across all areas of Muslim life.

By the time she was 10, Malala had declared her desire to be a doctor. With the support of her father, she also became a public speaker—in a 2008 speech before a local press club that was covered by regional media, she declared that the Taliban had no right to keep her from an education. She would go on to be a peer educator, encouraging other young people to get engaged in social discourse and journalism.

in January 2009 the Taliban set a new edict that girls would not be allowed in school; the ruling was accompanied by the bombing of more than a hundred girls schools. The harsh mandate did not go unnoticed, and the BBC came looking for someone be to cover the group’s increasing influence from a girl’s perspective. The dangers were real and after original bloggers bowed out, Ziauddin recommended his daughter for the job.

In her first post (published January 3, 2009), Malala wrote about a scary dream she’d had, with military helicopters and fighting, and noted that it wasn’t a new one. She was relieved when the girl’s schools were reopened in March. The fighting was far from over, though, and when their hometown was evacuated the family became separated. That May, Ziauddin was the subject of a Taliban death threat for criticizing the military.

It was around this time that she and her father were approached to be part of a documentary. In it, Malala talked about how her career plans had changed.

“I have a new dream… I must be a politician to save this country. There are so many crises in our country. I want to remove these crises.”

The documentary led to new visibility and even celebrity. Malala began to publicly advocate for women’s education on global platforms. She was still only 12.

In 2011, as her profile file continued to grow, she was awarded two peace prizes for youth. By 2012, she was organizing an education foundation. She also became, at 15, the target of a Taliban assassination attempt. Malala was on a school bus headed home when a gunman shot her; the bullet went through her head and neck.

She was moved to hospitals in Germany and England, where she was treated at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, which specialized in treating military personnel. She was in a coma for several days before speaking on October 17; miraculously her prognosis was for a strong recovery.

The shooting had prompted worldwide outrage that included protests in Pakistan and a petition, signed by more than 3 million, that led to Pakistan’s first Right to Education bill.

Her work was not yet done. She met with world leaders and activists and in July of 2013 spent her birthday addressing the United Nations to call for worldwide access to education. The occasion was named Malala Day; the teen used it to further her message:

“The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born … I am not against anyone, neither am I here to speak in terms of personal revenge against the Taliban or any other terrorist group. I’m here to speak up for the right of education for every child. I want education for the sons and daughters of the Taliban and all terrorists and extremists.”

In 2017 Malala would receive yet another honor as co-recipient (the youngest ever) of the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Indian child’s rights activist Kailash Satyarthi. The following year she opened s school on Lebanon for Syrian refugees.

She had already written her autobiography by then, an accomplishment that is particularly resonant with this writer. It’s almost impossible to truly take on how much life she has lived in her now 20 years.

There are a dozen things that make Malala an Inspirer. What strikes me most is her unending commitment—despite threats, despite an actual attempt on her life—to speaking truth to power. Her dedication literally put her in the line of fire and yet nothing could stop her from spreading her message.

I have to think that some people are just born with a different kind of core, a brain and the kind of integrity that supersedes fear and allows one to push past challenges no matter how difficult. To accept danger and seek truths and fairness anyway.

But while we may not all have the physical and emotional courage of Malala Yousafzai, it is undeniable that in every life there are opportunities to act in ways that reach beyond ourselves. We may not influence world-thinking or make it to the stage of the UN, but we can look at our own beliefs and find what matters to us, then fight for it. As we approach another new year, it is time to put up, stretch those integrity muscles and follow the example of the girl who refused to listen to those who would tell her no.

For some of us it means figuring out what matters most and where we want to spend our energy. Which talents can we bring to the table, what gifts can be put to use? How do we overcome the doubts that try to tell us we can’t really have an impact?

We can start small—hell, we can stay small, as long as we are in the mix, doing something. We can find those who push us to be better and to live up to our fullest potentials. And with the example she’s set, can all look for the Malala inside ourselves.

The world would be a much better place.


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