My mother was fearless. She fed a cub in Yellowstone before “Do NOT Feed the Bears” became park policy. She eluded a cobra attack in her garden in India, thanks to her mali lopping off its head. In the dark before dawn, she and my father escaped Hitler-occupied Germany on a last ship sailing to America. And she raised three kids, taking her career seriously as a “stay-at-home-mom,” without pay or applause.

Margaret Elise Grum grew up with 11 siblings who left school way too soon to gain employment and help pay the bills. Grandpa was a cold miner, often living away from home. Grandma housed borders to augment the combined incomes.

A tough schoolyard taught my mother early on to face her fears. Kids taunted and teased her. They threw rocks at the girl whose mom and dad “didn’t speak like Americans.” But my mother understood her parents’ courage in emigrating from Slovenia, so she endured the abuse and refused to be shamed by their broken English.

Her courage continued as a young woman. After months of working long hours in a secretarial pool, she approached her supervisor and asked for a promotion. Her knees quaked and her heart accelerated, but she stood tall and looked him in the eyes.

Dad and Horse

She met my dashing dad when she was only 18. Although in love, she turned down his marriage proposals three times. She was way too young to settle down. She wanted more living and laughing. Finally, after becoming husband and wife, she linked arms with my father and shipped out across the Atlantic to live overseas.

It wasn’t until my adult life when I learned how my mother’s fears simmered below the surface. She was shy, terribly so. Her shyness taunted her at every gathering, event, and vacation. She had a limited education. Her self-taught knowledge came from books, travel, and crossword puzzles. Her lack of a formal college education intimidated her when meeting new people. Then rheumatoid arthritis invaded her body. When it confined her to a limited life, a new fear was born that of “being a burden.” Yet, living with fears, she chose to be fearless.

Fears propel us into the corners of life, and if we’re honest, sitting on the sidelines gets comfortable, especially as we age and are more hesitant to take risks. So what does fearless look like? Most of us don’t have to fight off cobras. But we could join a conversation. Sit in silence, quieting random thoughts. Step on the scale and laugh at the number. Sign up to learn something new and actually GO. Try something new in a favorite restaurant. Say “no” when we know we should. Say “yes” when we want to! Throughout the world, women and men are being fearless in big, life-changing ways. But, small acts of courage count, too. They prepare us for those serious choices up ahead.