The recent movie ‘We Bought a Zoo’ is an adaptation of the true story of Benjamin Mee and his children. After the death of his wife, Benjamin desperately needs a change of scenery in order to flee a landscape filled with reminders of her and the pain of his loss. Searching for a new home in a new town, he finds the “perfect” house — with one small hitch: It comes with a down-on-its-luck zoo. To have the house, he must also assume responsibility for a ragtag bunch of animals and zookeepers.
Mee has lived his life thus far by advice he received from his brother as a child. He credits the philosophy with his greatest successes — including the moment he saw his future wife for the first time through a café window and decided he must speak to her. In the film, Benjamin passes on the wisdom to his son: “Sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage,” he says. “Twenty seconds of embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”
Accordingly, Mee buys the house and zoo, the first courageous steps toward letting go of his grief and starting a new life. Of course, Hollywood has a way of making it all seem so easy. In real life, the risks always seem greater and the stakes much higher. Courage can be frightening. Even so, the truth remains: Sometimes a brief burst of bravery really is all you need to end romantic gridlock and make something great happen. Here are four things to keep in mind as you talk yourself into your own 20 seconds of moxie:
1. Courage is a catalyst. Chemists (and successful lovers) know that you can wait around a long time for some reactions to happen on their own—and go crazy with boredom in the process. To really make sparks fly you’ve got to add an extra ingredient: A catalyst. Courage provides that missing sizzle anytime a romantic opportunity is loaded with potential but not much else. True, you could blow up the laboratory—but what a way to go!
2. There is only Now. We all have our reasons for being cautious instead of acting with courage. Perhaps you’ve been burned before and have learned to shy away from risk. Maybe you are immobilized by a thousand scary “what-ifs.” Whatever the case, notice where those reasons all reside: In the past or future, but rarely in the here and now. Courage can’t cope with everything that has ever caused you pain or might hurt you in the future. But it can easily overcome what is present right now. The bottom line: In this moment, there is little to lose and everything to gain.
3. Rejection is less painful than regret. Most people believe that playing it safe with their heart is the only surefire strategy for avoiding emotional pain. Not true! Yes, hurtful rejection is a possibility when you act on your 20 seconds of courage. But misery is a certainty if you retreat into further loneliness without a fight. Two risky paths lie before you, but only one has the potential to lead to the partner you seek.
4. Romance is not a passive verb. Perhaps we have pop culture to thank for the idea that if you simply wish hard enough love will form spontaneously in your life like dew on morning grass. Of course, nothing else worth having is like that. If you need a new job, you polish your shoes and your résumé and get busy looking. If you want a chance to win the lottery, you buy a ticket. Finding romance is no different; you’ve got to activate your desires by acting on them.
Twenty seconds is the time it takes to pick up the phone and dial it, to get up from your seat in the deli and walk across the floor to her table, to invite him for coffee after work. Courage is the force that opens endless possibilities.