Years passed and I began to ski carefully, enjoying tricky slopes but always controlling my speed. I wasn’t tempted by adventure in my day-to-day life either, choosing a large company to work for after university. Perhaps, like many other Russians who lived through the turbulent 1990s, I favoured stability over adventure. I couldn’t understand entrepreneurs. They seemed to be cut from a different cloth: thriving on taking risks and resilient to failures. I thought the same about athletes, musicians and writers who had dared to challenge themselves and the world.
It was 2008 when I went to watch the London marathon: a friend of mine was running it, and I wanted to cheer him on. My mum was visiting me at the time and I dragged us both to the 30km mark by Southwark Bridge. It was raining, which only exacerbated the horrible spectacle in front of our eyes: exhausted runners displayed every shade of pain. Neither I, nor my mum could understand why those people tortured themselves so much. And then my friend Sam ran by. He struggled, but he ran on. At that time I was already fond of running but I hadn’t done a race longer than a 10K. Standing there in the rain, I looked at the runners: young, old, male and female, fit and overweight and thought to myself: “If they can do it, maybe so can I.”
A year later I ran my first marathon. After all the months of preparation, the race itself didn’t seem a big deal. It was hard, really hard, but it didn’t feel like a feat of courage - only an achievement of consistent training. At that same time I left my well-paid job to go travelling around the world. That didn’t appear to be a brave act either, only a well-deserved career break and a chance to see some places I’d been dreaming about.
I am still in awe of entrepreneurs, but it’s not their courage that stands out for me. Rather, it’s their passion, perseverance and confidence. In fact, I believe that in order to start your own business, you just have to be a little naive, very determined and be prepared to hassle.
A month ago I came to the Ladies’ Ponds in Hampstead. Someone recommended me to bathe in cold water to boost my immune system. The temperature of the water was just +4C. Insanely brave women calmly entered the water, swam and came out, looking pink and happy. One lady told me she had been swimming in the ponds almost every day for the past ten years. Another advised me how to get in (slowly). “You aren’t born fit”, I told myself that day. I swam there several times since, gradually staying a little longer and relishing the energy boost after every dip. (The water has warmed up to +8C now, so it got a bit easier.)
To do something brave, you don’t need to be fearless. A person on the bus standing up to a xenophobic bully is as afraid as anyone else. A battered woman eventually gathers strength to leave her husband because she is scared to death. Only afterwards we think of these people as courageous. You only need to think of others who have already quit smoking, started their own business or dipped into cold water. If they did it, so can you.
You aren't born brave - you become brave.