Sometimes, people ask me, “When did you stop being afraid?”

My answer is always the same, “I’ll let you know when it happens.”

Thus far it hasn’t, but I have learned a valuable lesson. There’s a big difference between being afraid and staying afraid.

Most times, fear isn’t a choice. It shows up like a surprise package on the doorstep of your life. Often unexpected, always unwanted, it is a spider in a shoe that yesterday had none. This is what it means to be afraid.

Staying afraid is different. Staying afraid is a choice. It’s a lifestyle, a scratchy comforter you pull over your head in the hope that it will protect you from worse things. Maybe you got hurt before, by a relationship, by a job, by an anything. You’d rather not expose yourself to more hurt, so instead, you choose fear. Better to shut out the world than experience the vulnerability of bravery.

That’s the great irony of courage. We think it is a shield, it is not. Courage is the laying down of all our weapons. Courage is removing the armor that would stop us from feeling an often unfeeling world. Courage is an act of vulnerability.

You might be afraid today. That’s OK, but don’t stay afraid. Trading the risk of the unknown day for the familiarity of the known fear is a horrible bargain.

Be afraid. Do things that are terrifying. Let fear fall down like rain. But kick the puddles. Stomp the water from the gutters. Don’t the rain keep you inside a fear.

Being afraid isn’t failure. Staying afraid is.