by Niall Doherty

“Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage, and I promise you something great will come of it.” – From the movie, We Bought A Zoo

A couple weeks back I sent out the call to my mailing list to send me stories of their Random Acts of Courage. It’s been over two years since the original RAoC project and I still hear regularly from people who were inspired to stretch their own comfort zone and reap the rewards.

Hopefully the nine stories below will help drive home the lesson that all it usually takes is a few seconds of courage to make a huge difference in your life.

Hand-made, stage-ready

From Robert in England:

There I was, social recluse, standing on a stage before a hundred people, ocarina in hand. It was my first time playing in public and I was terrified. No friends, no support.

Several months prior I had committed to escaping my social prison, discovering this unusual instrument of pure sound. I had learned how to play, seeking confidence through performance.

And now here I was on stage, stood frozen by fear for what felt like an eternity. Eventually I raised the instrument to my lips and started playing. With my nerves jangling, mistakes where flying everywhere. But I kept going, keeping time as best I could.

When finally my performance came to an end, the response was overwhelming. The whole crowd was applauding and cheering for me, the social recluse. What’s more, folks where approaching me, curious about my unusual instrument. I told them an ocarina is a ceramic flute from 19th century Italy. I told them how I had made mine with my own hands. Their interest grew.

That was my first experience of playing in public. In the year since I’ve had many more performances. My social confidence has developed greatly and I’ve made some awesome friends along the way.

The people who tell you not to hitchhike

From Sam in Belgium:

I’ve been in love with hitchhiking ever since a long-term American traveler showed me the ropes in Sardinia, 3 years ago. I love the feelings of anticipation and exploration that it gives me. Above all, what’s really cool to me is that drivers, knowing they’ll never see you again, often use you as some sort of outlet and randomly tell you really private things, you get a very real connection with people.

I’d hitchhiked in a bunch of European countries, but when I went over to the States for 2,5 months there was such an incredible sense of paranoia and stigma attached to it that for a while, I was wondering if it might be better to just forget about it. However, in my heart I knew something that made me just go for it: none of the people who tell you not to hitchhike have ever hitchhiked. It’s completely baseless.

So me and my girlfriend ended up hitchhiking like crazy through Massachusetts and North & South Carolina! We were repeatedly approached by southern cops who literally told us stuff like “I don’t wanna get no phone call sayin’ y’all been found in a ditch” and “these are the projects, these people will rob you and leave you with nuthin’.” In the end, we had a fucking incredible time and met some of the most hilarious characters ever.

Quitting and stealing

From Teresa in the US:

When I was 23 I worked for a grocery chain, The Grand Union Company. I worked in the main offices in Waterford, NY. I used to get poked in the back of the head by the candy buyer. Guy was a jackass if ever there was one. He used to say to me, “You’re gonna go grey in this chair. You’re gonna die working here.” He pissed me off so much that after a few months of putting up with that, I walked myself down to the BIG BOSS’ office and put in my two weeks notice. Then, I went into that little town near where I lived and rented a small space and opened up my own pet salon! Although I didn’t remain in that little rental space for too long, I owned my own pet salon for 27 years.

In my later twenties I climbed a fence and stole a dog that was tied on a 3 foot rope for days and days and days with no food or water. I watched this house like a hawk on a mouse. Finally, after almost a week and a half, when no one was home, and they rarely were anyway, I climbed the fence, cut the rope, slipped a leash on the poor baby and back over the fence I went. I had someone interested in this puppy and they gave him the best home.

Porn = cat breath

From Joshu in the Netherlands:

I would spend hours browsing through endless free porn websites. It became a familiar part of my daily routine. Afterwards, I usually felt a mix of guilt, shame, a sense of disgust and loneliness. My head spins if I imagine all the stuff I could have learned or trained if I had devoted these daily 15-odd minutes to something else, like guitar practice.

About a year ago, Gary Wilson’s TED-talk “The Great Porn Experiment” inspired me to try and quit. I didn’t want to continue conditioning my Pavlov to plastic bodies and unreal expectations of sexual encounters. I wanted my freedom back.

So I took the leap and published it on my blog. There it was, open to see for the whole word, but most importantly my friends and family. I can recall my heart thumping after pressing the “publish” button.

But going public and ending the silent struggle with myself was a very powerful step in the right direction.

Yet, I still haven’t completely gotten rid of it. The urge comes easy for someone who spends a lot of time online.

I’ve just started my latest attempt about a month ago, and who knows maybe I’ll fail again. But quitting strong habits like this requires patience with oneself.

Putting a wager on bad habits has worked incredibly well for me. To be more precise, I have an agreement with my brother, to consume a big spoon of cat food for every time that I watch porn.

Pretty disgusting, agreed. But it does the trick.

Never quit; get laid off

From Sam in the US:

After 13 consecutive years working in Corporate America, I decided to take a leap of faith and go out on my own in 2012. It took three years of writing on Financial Samurai and more than a year of planning my exit before I decided to make the move. I encourage everybody to get laid off rather than quit. If you get laid off you get healthcare (COBRA) and a potential nice severance package depending on how long you’ve been with the firm. My severance package has enabled me to survive for years without income, which is nice since entrepreneurship is a fickle business.

It’s been a year since I took that leap of faith and I’m very glad I did. You don’t need as much money as you think to be happy. You also get super motivated to succeed on your own once you no longer have a job. Being able to focus on your own endeavors is wonderful because of the correlation between effort and results. I plan to take entrepreneurship one year at a time.

Freedom fighter

From Momekh in Pakistan:

I think my act of courage that I have reaped the most benefit from was 12 years ago.

That was when I took my family in confidence (I was starting college back then) and told them that I don’t want to live a life that you guys have planned for me, but I want to try out something else.

That one act lead to me refusing job offers left, right and center and it lead me to live a life I am, by God’s Grace, happy to live. When things get tough – as they do sometimes, nay, as they MUST sometimes – I have considered giving up. But find nothing better to give this up for.

Now I am writing an eBook on this, already get tons of emails from people and friends asking for “advice” and am scheduled to be interviewed on the largest television network, for my “life of adventure”.

And I keep hoping that every “random” act is just the beginning of something much bigger, something much more meaningful. It has been so far.

Gay in Uganda

From Rory elsewhere:

Just after my 19th Birthday in 2011, I went to Uganda to travel alone. I went there because of, at the time, recent press regarding it to be the ‘worst place in the world to be gay’. I am gay and I wanted to check it out for myself.

Sometimes you fail, and that’s okay

From Frank in Germany:

I found my perfect job in November 2012. Knowing that I wanted to help people find their inner motivation and right career path, I was hired as a counselor and job scout by a social facility that cares for the older unemployed.

Okay, so perhaps the job wasn’t exactly “perfect.” I neglected to mention that I was taking a 70% pay cut compared to my previous salary, and this with a wife and two young daughters at home. But I was absolutely sure that it was the right move.

After only two or three weeks on the job I recognized that I was losing respect for some of my clients; they obviously didn’t want to find work, no matter what exciting job offers I found for them. My colleagues seemed able to live with this fact, but it didn’t fit into the idealistic social work picture I had drawn years before. Trying to help people who resisted help was not what I had dreamed of. I also began to miss the freedom of my old IT job, where I had control over my calendar and got to travel quite a bit. And, I have to admit, I missed the money. I had been prepared to give up a lot of luxury, but not for work that proved so unfulfilling. I was further away from dreams than ever.

After eight weeks I decided to quit. Not knowing what to do next, I fell into a really deep depression. I was lucky though that I had a financial cushion that would keep me afloat for the best part of a year. After three months and a lot of thinking and desperation I decided to republish my old web portal I had once created for my own counselling business. My plan is now to develop this to the best German counselling portal in the web. Combined with my own counselling services I see a valid business model for the next months. With this plan in mind I regained my power, my creativity and happiness at work.

This is not a story with a neat and tidy happy ending. At least not yet. But I think it’s important to acknowledge that you can fail after leaving your comfort zone and that some unexpected things can hit you. But more important is the lesson that you can always pick yourself up and find an alternative, no matter how hard you get hit or how deep your depression may be. I keep following my heart against these resistances and it feels right.

Opportunity is taking a chance

From Matt in California:

A beautiful atmospheric aura came through me as I walked past this girl. Feeling uncertain and awe-inspired, I was extremely nervous. I calmed myself down by looking at the time on my phone. I knew I would regret missing this opportunity if I didn’t take the chance.

I caught up to her looking at all the cookies at the cafeteria. I told her everything how it is.

If I told her how I felt, I would honor that beautiful aura.

She was listening to music on her headphones so I motioned her to remove them.

“I found you really interesting so I wanted to talk to you.”

She reacted with a little state of shock but utter excitement. She laughed so happily. That is one of my favorite memories out of all of the risk-taking that I did with social skydiving.

Comments are all yours

Got your own tales of courage to share? Let’s hear them in the comments.