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Back to the Basics

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Marianne Elliott is my friend. I am proud to call her that. She’s a wonderful writer, passionate human rights advocate, and fab yoga teacher who I’ve invited to my Taos writing retreat three times. Our mutual friend Brené Brown called her “One of the best teachers I’ve ever experienced … a beautiful writer and a courageous truth teller.” Marianne truly savors and serves. I’m proud to host her today!

Trained as a lawyer, Marianne helped develop human rights strategies for the governments of New Zealand and East Timor, was Policy Advisor for Oxfam, and spent two years in the Gaza Strip before going to Afghanistan, where she served in the United Nations. In Afghanistan, she decided stories were her weapon of choice, and yoga was her medicine.

Her next round of 30 Days of Courage, an online guide to bravery in action, starts on 4 August. Find out more about the online course here.

I’ve got some big news from this side of the world: I got a job.

I know, a job. After being self-employed as a yoga teacher, writer and activist for the past four years, I didn’t expect to go back on anyone’s payroll. But this is no ordinary job. It’s the perfect job for an entrepreneurial advocate and story-teller like me.

I was born to be an agitator and I have spent my life learning the skills of a change-maker, which makes my new role as the National Director of ActionStation a great fit. ActionStation is an independent community advocacy organization that enables individuals and organizations with progressive values to take powerful, coordinated action for a fair society, a healthy environment and accountable politics.

So I’m excited about where I’m headed and all of the excited work in front of me — but it doesn’t mean the transition, the changes in my daily routine, writing and income don’t have me feeling scared. Even good change has the potential to get us shaking in our boots. These days I’m having to really practice what I preach when it comes to daily courage, so I’m going back to the basics:

I’m giving myself credit for my courage.

I remember when I took my first ‘humanitarian’ job in the Gaza Strip. I had two weeks to pack up my life in New Zealand and move to the other side of the world. To the middle of a conflict-zone. To do a job for which I had no experience.

I had no real idea what I was doing. But I believed I would figure out a way to do it. This is part of my daily practice of living bravely.

I leap first. Before the voices of self-doubt keep me stuck. Once a leap has been taken, or a path has been selected, momentum takes over and there is little time to indulge self-doubt or fear. By then there is a job to be done. So you get on with it.

I did the same when I went to Afghanistan. It wasn’t until I was sitting in the airport in Dubai, about to board my flight to Kabul that I suddenly wondered whether I would actually be able to adjust to life in yet another war-torn country. Would I really be able to do the job I’d signed on to do?

One of the things I’ve learned about courage is that we can ‘positively reinforce’ our own courageous choices by taking time to notice them, recognize them and actually give ourselves some credit for them.

I remind myself: I’ve been here before. I did it then and I can do it now.

I’m talking to my fear.

In my experience we choose to be brave despite our fears, not because we are fearless.

Many of us have been taught to never do this. We’ve been taught to ignore our fears. But the truth is, our fears are part of us. They grew out of our life experiences and if we look at them, really take the time to see them for what they are we can recognize them, get insight into where they came from and maybe even come to understand what they need from us.

I keep asking myself, “Sweetheart, what are you really afraid of?”

I’m meeting my fear with kindness.

Here is the bottom line of my approach to fear: Love melts fear.

If you can look your fear in the eye, if you can listen to your fear, if you can recognize your fear as a part of you that has grown out of the experiences you’ve had, then you can find compassion for your fear. In that compassion is the realization that your fear is trying to keep you safe and needs to know that you are already safe.

Once your the part of you that is scared starts to understand – and believe – that you are safe then the insistent voice of fear often fade.

I am reminding myself that everything I’ve done over the past five years has prepared me for my latest role.

This job will take courage, creativity & curiosity. It will stretch me — and, at times, stretching won’t be comfortable. It will give me the chance to play a part in rejuvenating democracy and promoting equity and transparency in New Zealand.

But mostly, it will be just like everything else in my life that has mattered: it will take courage.

Thanks Marianne. I love watching you grow!

Originally published at

About the Author

Jen Louden is a writer and personal growth pioneer who helped launch the self-care movement with her first book The Woman’s Comfort Book. She's the author of 5 additional books on well-being and whole living, including The Woman's Retreat Book, which landed her on Oprah, and her newest The Life Organizer.

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