When Dan Bolen set out to write his memoir, The Courage To Be Courageous, he had plenty of compelling material. As a young college dropout, he talked his way into a job at the employment agency Snelling and Snelling and almost immediately shot up the ranks and became a millionaire. He went on to establish his own employment agency, another compelling germ for a potential memoir that could describe the decades he spent working hard and achieving brilliant financial success. But Bolen didn’t want to write about making money, or about his business ventures or any of his many achievements. Instead, he wanted to write about the part of himself that was a complete mess: his personal life. Faced with medical problems in his seventies, Bolen decided it was finally time to share his truth.

“I piled up all the external markers: house, wife, family, church leader, and lifestyle. But I only began finding my true success at age 70—a deeper and more important success rooted in transparency and honesty, which finally led me to total peace. It’s never too late. Except now the mortality clock is ticking a bit more loudly with a potential major heart surgery looming.

“Money is great—no doubt—but now I realize I don’t want to die with any secrets, including all the old family stuff I’ve been covering up all these years. I was fearful, hidden, and voiceless for seven decades….I want my story to be heard. I’m actually excited by the specter of truth-telling because vulnerability also can bring peace. For the record, I’m equally terrified by the vulnerability this process engenders.

“Welcome to my world: a lifetime rolling on the twin tracks of high energy and dark terror.”

Bolen’s secret? His sexuality. The Courage To Be Courageous is Bolen’s story of repressing his identity as a gay man for decades until he was finally ready to face himself and share his story in the hope that it would help other people struggling to be themselves. Kirkus Reviews calls the memoir “an affectingly honest, even confessional life story, one marked by both keen intelligence and fearless self-criticism.”

Bolen, who now lives in Arizona, describes much of his professional life as a “work addiction.” “How The Courage To Be Courageous came about,” he says, “was that I sold my business when I turned 70 years old, and I had to face the demon of who I was.” He had spent so many years burying himself in his work in order to hide his true self that when he was finally ready to face himself, he had to grapple with issues ranging from his relationship with his father and his identity as a Jehovah’s Witness to his own internalized homophobia.

It was actually Bolen’s therapist who suggested that his life would make a pretty interesting memoir and even introduced him to the writer Landon J. Napoleon, who is credited as Bolen’s co-author for The Courage To Be Courageous. At first, Bolen just wanted to write a memoir “for cathartic reasons,” with the intention of giving the book only to his family members, but after a year and a half of working with Napoleon, Bolen agreed to publish his story publicly. “The response has been through the roof,” he says. Encouraged by the positive feedback, Bolen realized how validating it was for others to relate to his struggles and his successes. He even started a podcast in order to talk more about coming out as gay later in life and learning to live authentically.

Bolen says that the experience of sharing what he meant to be a private story with a wide audience has been overwhelmingly positive. He receives feedback from all kinds of people from all over the spectrum of sexuality who read The Courage To Be Courageous and felt inspired to be true to themselves in whatever way was meaningful for them. “My family will not respond to me,” he says. “But the responses from strangers made me realize the impact that my story had on people’s lives. I’ve had people contact me who were considering suicide, and if reading my story has saved even one life, that’s well worth it. It has a powerful affirming effect on me to realize my book has changed people’s lives.”

Bolen’s life experiences have taught him that ignoring the fear in your life will cause you to build unhealthy addictions, like overworking yourself, but by facing your fear and embracing your courage, you can always find happiness and authenticity in your life. He especially hopes that he can show LGBTQ+ kids today, who still face so much adversity, the importance of finding community. “When you don’t have a community, you feel alone,” he says. “We talk a lot about community in the book. Find a community you can go to and be who you are. Even though I’m of a different generation, I think my story can show them how you can still be yourself if you can find a safe community, even if that community isn’t your family or in the place where you live.”

Bolen credits Napoleon for his work writing The Courage To Be Courageous, and thus doesn’t describe himself as much of a writer. While deciding whether or not he wanted to work with him, Bolen read some of Napoleon’s other books and spoke to the other people who had collaborated with him to produce memoirs, and Bolen heard nothing but overwhelmingly positive stories about his kindness and sensitivity.

But most of all, Bolen was struck by how much he liked the man personally. “I completely opened up to him,” says Bolen. “My story doesn’t always cast me in the best light. But I just put it out there. It took a year and a half of lots and lots of writing and editing, and it’s all true.” Bolen chose to leave out some events in order to protect the privacy of other people, but his own fierce dedication to vulnerability, paired with Napoleon’s experience and skill, resulted in a memoir that Kirkus praises as “refreshingly candid and thoughtful.”

For himself, Bolen started out his process with a lot of self-hatred. But by the end, he came to love himself and felt the freedom of living with full honesty and openness. “Whenever people ask me why I waited until I was seventy to come out,” he says, “it’s because I buried myself and denied who I was. But now I have a sense of peace and of happiness that I’ve never had before in my life.” Bolen gets to follow his own advice as he continues to face the health issues and heart surgeries that initially sent him on his path of self-discovery and healing. “I obviously have fear,” he says, “but I’m going to be courageous, and I’m going to get through it.”

While he doesn’t have any concrete plans for another book as of yet, Bolen does intend to make more of his podcasts. “My goal was not to become a professional author; it was to get the story out there and to build community,” he says. “My purpose is to use my story to give people the courage to overcome fear in their lives. You’re the only one who defines who you really are.”


Chelsea Ennen is a writer living in Brooklyn.