Last weekend, my friend Diana and I were paddling a kayak up the Colorado River towards Lady Bird Lake in Austin. Diana emigrated from China in her late teens, is a world traveler, and has gone through the difficult and challenging process of learning English. In the past year, I have met many people who have given up everything in their lives for just a tiny taste of freedom, on the off chance that following that chaotic and elusive dream forges an unforgettable and lifelong journey towards something sublime.

I do a lot of crazy things. I like olympic weightlifting. My decision to live in Paris for a while was mostly guided by me figuratively throwing a dart into a world map. I’ve studied Spanish for no other reason than the fact that I love words and I love language. Sometimes when I am frustrated, I go outside and I walk or ride my bike, like Forrest Gump, until my legs just can’t go any more… because I need to be in constant movement. Diana asked me about this, asked me what my motivation for doing any of this was, and I had to think about it for the first time in my life.

I wake up, I think about something I can’t imagine myself doing… and I think, “I can do that,” and then I do it. She said, “You make that sound so simple.” And I said, “It is simple. You don’t think about why you can’t do it. You don’t accept excuses. You just do something.” I started taking salsa dancing lessons a few weeks ago. At the very first deviantART holiday party I went to in December 2010, Mario Luevanos approached me and asked me to dance with him. And I tried, but I could not dance. I couldn’t imagine a reality in which I knew how to dance, and yet weeks later, I can now… sort of… because I refused to let myself fear looking dumb or silly.

But we place a lot of pressure on doing things because actions are more concrete, more documentable. It’s so easy for me to stand behind the fact that I’m supposedly this badass programming, weight-lifting, salsa-dancing, multi-lingual world-traveling girl… when there’s so much inside of me that I am unsatisfied with, that I am in constant battle to improve and fix.

In 2011, someone very close to me commented that I fully lacked compassion, empathy, or love. And they were correct. I simply did not know how to feel those things. It hurt to have to accept these things about myself! I could feel emotions for myself… anything to motivate my own self-preservation, but I struggled to feel for another person on a closer or more intimate level that goes beyond basic philanthropy or relative moral values. I felt disappointment because emotion is not something you can will on yourself… it’s something that is merely there within.

In 2012, I discovered emotions I didn’t know were there within me. Like a deaf person hearing with a cochlear implant for the first time, the feelings were over-saturating my senses, it was difficult to comprehend something that everyone around me had already been feeling all along effortlessly, things like empathy, love, and sympathy. The magnitude and range of all five of my senses became amplified as a result. And like my friend Diana might respond with fear to the idea of putting an olympic bar on her back and doing some squats, I responded to these feelings similarly. I felt embarrassment and vulnerability–it was foreign to me. It scared me to feel the things I felt. And more so, it scared me to share with those close to me that I was experiencing these feelings.

But here’s the thing. You can be a badass with emotion. And I know a lot of emotional badasses… people who feel things deeply, passionately, people who do incredible things, people who care for others, who love, who live… who don’t get the deference they deserve. But like climbing a mountain, being adventurous enough to let yourself embrace emotions and be able to act like a smart, sane, noble human being… it’s a big deal!

My favorite emotional badass? The man who’s pushed me through everything and kicked me when I was down from a very young age? Henry Rollins.

“I’ve always seen it as the role of an artist to drag his inside out, give the audience all you’ve got. Writers, actors, singers, all good artists do the same. It isn’t supposed to be easy.”

“When you start to doubt yourself, the real world will eat you alive.”

“Keep your blood clean, your body lean, and your mind sharp.”

“It’s good to be able to deal with anger somehow other than drinking, fighting, crashing cars, hitting your kid, your wife, your husband, your whatever. Paintbrushes, pens, movie cameras, guitars, microphones, typewriters — these are good things. Weights. These are positive ways, good ways to deal with anger, frustration, alienation, rage. ‘Cause all the other ways do nothing but hurt people.”

“Half of life is fucking up the other half is dealing with it.”

“Life is full of choices, if you have the guts to go for it. That’s why I get immediately bored with anyone’s complaining about how boring their life is, or how bad their town is. Fucking leave and go somewhere else. Or don’t.”

Who are your emotional heroes? What does it take to be an emotional hero?