Making a Brave Decision Without Courage

This is a translated version of Ko's first essay of a series "Where Does the Courage to Take On Challenges Come From?"

From Cheesylazy to Jagunbae

The last week of running our restaurant, Cheesylazy, was one of the most intense moments of my life. I fondly remember the farewells with customers, but one conversation stands out. A customer said, “You are really brave.” It was encouragement from a regular who had read our announcement that we were closing the restaurant to start a publishing company.

I was grateful that someone who had watched our restaurant grow understood and supported our choice. However, I couldn’t react properly. Despite my 18 months of experience serving customers, I was still clumsy and terrified of the future. The word ‘brave’ felt very unfamiliar to me.

Up until three days before we announced the closure, I would wake up in the morning, terrified of what lay ahead, and cry. Even after naps, delicious food, and talking with my spouse, my anxiety didn’t subside. One day, two days, and three days. The persistent anxiety and depression felt new and alarming.

While writing this, I pulled out a note I wrote back then to organize my thoughts. It was a Q&A to comfort myself, titled ‘Why My Mind is Dizzy Right Now.’

Why My Mind is Dizzy Right Now

1. Am I afraid I won’t do well?
2. Am I sad to leave Cheesylazy?
3. Do I not know what to do right now?
4. Do I not know how to explain what I need to do next?
5. Does no one understand my worries and pain?

As I sobbed and wrote the note, I clearly saw the fear rooted deep inside me. At the same time, I realized how much I loved Cheesylazy. I wondered if it was okay to quit something I loved so much. Even while replying to messages from customers who saw the closure notice, I feared I might regret this decision one day. When one customer held my hand tightly and tearfully expressed her sadness, I even felt certain I was making the wrong decision. I secretly imagined taking back the closure notice, thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be ridiculous if I said it was just a joke?’

My dictionary defines courage as ‘a fearless spirit.’ The spirit here must also be ‘vigorous and resolute.’ Was my decision wrong? Could I take responsibility for the uncertainties ahead? At that time, I was clearly terrified and neither vigorous nor resolute. The word ‘brave’ felt like an embarrassing compliment. I often reflected on the customer’s words that were neither swallowed with thanks nor denied.

Is it possible to make a courageous decision without courage? It might sound like wordplay, but that’s how I was back then. Shaking like a person without a shred of courage, yet making a brave decision. Was I a brave person for that? Or was I not brave because I was scared even after making the necessary decision? What is courage? Where does the courage to take on challenges come from? Will I still be a brave person, taking on challenges, even at eighty?

One interesting fact is that the ‘future’ I was so afraid of is now my ‘reality.’ I quickly adapted to my new work, and I’ve been so busy that I hardly have time to think about uncertainties or regrets. Though I was terrified just four months ago, it feels like a distant past.

Like a student reluctantly elected as class president but ends up fulfilling the role well by the end of the semester, sticking to brave choices seems to have made me somewhat braver. In hindsight, there’s not much courage can do for someone so brave that they handle everything effortlessly. The true power of courage might be a privilege enjoyed only by those who can make brave decisions despite lacking courage.

Thoughts? Leave a comment

  1. The Privacy Dad — Jun 26, 2024:

    Great article! I hope your new endeavours work out. I have never believed that courage means the absence of fear. TPD