In the pursuit of personal growth and self-mastery, I find that cultivating courage becomes absolutely essential. This is something I took on at an early age. I recall my father talking about this (over the years) with his example of how we need to be “white knights in shining armor”, helping those who need it. My father-in-law recently shared a story of when he was a young adult, he saw two women who were swimming in a river and began drowning. He ran in without much thought and put his own life at risk to save them. My wife stands up and will not back down in moments of injustice.
I won’t dive into deep detail, but I assume you get the gist of what I want to convey with those short examples. Courage runs deep in our family. I’m not saying “look at us”, and how good we are. Far from it. What I do want to dispense here though is that I want all of us to put on our white armor. We need to let go of fragility and instill confidence by developing the ability to approach life’s challenges, rather than avoiding them. It is in this courageous approach that we find the hallmark of happy and flourishing individuals. This concept is something we also strongly pass on to our children. To never be afraid. To never back down. To weigh the risks. To analyze and have the courage to do what is right.
That being said, do you avoid your difficulties when faced with hardship or do you see them as chances for improvement? This fundamental question sets the stage for our exploration of courage. Our responses to life’s problems and the resultant effects on our well being are determined by how we view them. By changing our perspective, we can see difficulties as opportunities to grow into our finest, strongest versions of ourselves. That white knight.
The decision to approach life’s challenges with courage holds tremendous significance. It not only influences our psychological well-being but also manifests in our physiology. Scientists distinguish between a fight-or-flight response and a challenge-response. The former arises when we perceive everything as a threat to our well-being, triggering feelings of overwhelm and burnout. On the other hand, the challenge-response fosters a sense of energized tranquility and calm confidence, empowering us to show up and give our all.
Courage, I find, is the virtue that vitalizes all other virtues, and it lies at the core of our journey. Etymologically (meaning the origin, word source, derivation) the word courage shares an ancient root with “heart.” Just as the heart pumps blood, courage invigorates all the other virtues within us. Without the wisdom, self-mastery, and courage to act in the presence of fear, our growth remains confined to theory. I believe that to achieve true mastery, we must embody courage through practice and action.
While courage is vital, it’s crucial to find a virtuous balance. Aristotle’s concept of the golden mean reminds us that any virtue can have both a vice of deficiency and a vice of excess. In the case of courage, deficiency leads to cowardice – an excessive fear of everything. Conversely, an excess of courage manifests as rashness, kind of like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute. Striving for the virtuous mean ensures we navigate between these two extremes, recognizing that each of us has a unique expression of courage. For some, it may require pushing beyond timidity, while for others, it may involve tempering rashness. And that is what I meant earlier with how we teach our children to approach courage.
Now we can look at this from various perspectives, but the one thing I want you to say to yourself is:
“I am willing to act in the presence of fear.”
Now, what is important to understand here is that fear need not be present in order to be courageous. Knowing this fact frees us from the idea that when we experience fear, there is something fundamentally wrong with us. Even the most successful people in all fields experience fear and anxiety when doing what motivates and drives them. However, understanding that fear is a natural aspect of growth allows us to embrace it – it is a normal part of progress. Our ability to take action in the face of fear is the key.
Embracing fear requires a shift in mindset. Today, in my opinion, society is moving into the completely obnoxious. We are bored, we are angry, we are agitated easily. People are frustrated with what is happening. And this goes for everywhere and many things. Yet the one thing I see in many instances is this lack of courage. Look at the recent attacks in Annecy, France where a knife attacker went after women and children. What about the the last years during the so-called “C19 crisis” – those that had a different view then the narrative? What about the entire crazy gendering?
We all have opinions and that is the basis for discussion. But that too has disappeared. You are either right or left. However, whatever you may think and wherever you are on that scale, in all those instances, instead of allowing fear to paralyze us, we need to choose to acknowledge its existence and move forward. Courageous individuals understand that fear often accompanies opportunities for growth and transformation. They recognize that stepping out of their comfort zones is necessary for personal development. By accepting fear as a natural part of the journey, we can harness its energy and transform it into the fuel that propels us towards our goals.
Here is an example. Nearly a decade ago, my wife was not a great public speaker. The thought of addressing a large audiences evoke intense anxiety, causing butterflies in her stomach and a what seemed a racing heart. However, courageous individuals do not let fear deter them from sharing their message. She embraced her fear and used it as a catalyst to hone her speaking skills. She joined Toastmasters, actively shared presentations in her work environment, and as her courage expanded, the fear diminished. Through repeated action in the presence of fear, she not only developed her speaking abilities but also cultivated a sense of resilience and confidence that permeates other aspects of her life. Today, she will not back down and I love that.
Courage is not an innate trait reserved for a select few. It is a skill that can be developed and strengthened through intentional practice. Just as physical exercise strengthens our muscles, regularly facing our fears builds our courage muscles. Each small act of courage contributes to our overall growth and empowers us to take on even greater challenges in the future.
If you know me, you know how hard headed I am. I am direct. I will not back down. Whether it was arguing with my boss on something I did not agree with, or telling someone to pickup the trash they throw on the ground, to being straight forward on my opinion of Covid – I will treat you with respect, but I will not back down to injustice from my worldview.
It is this that I want you, no matter how hard, to build up inside.
Courage has transformative power. Here are a few examples from different areas of life that I can come up with to help you understand the above:
1. Personal Relationships: Building and maintaining healthy relationships often require acts of courage. It takes courage to open up and be vulnerable, to express our true feelings and needs, and to confront conflicts head-on. When faced with difficult conversations or the fear of rejection, courageous individuals choose to communicate authentically, creating deeper connections and fostering trust.
Like I mentioned earlier, I will tell you not what you want to hear, but what I think you need to hear. And I appreciate the same back.
2. Career and Professional Growth: In the realm of careers, courage is essential for professional advancement. It takes courage to take on new responsibilities, pursue ambitious goals, and embrace opportunities for growth that may involve stepping into the unknown. Whether it’s pitching an innovative idea to a skeptical audience or pursuing a career change, acts of courage propel individuals forward and expand their horizons.
I made quick bounds in the corporate environment because of my rapport and skill set. I don’t simply nod my head, I know when and how to voice my view, not always beneficial, but like I said, I am not driven by the fear of losing my job.
3. Personal Goals and Dreams: Courage is the driving force behind the pursuit of our dreams. It takes courage to set audacious goals, overcome self-doubt and fear of failure, and persevere in the face of obstacles. Whether it’s starting a business, writing a novel, or embarking on a daring adventure, courageous individuals push past their comfort zones, embrace uncertainty, and pursue their passions with unwavering determination.
Don’t let anyone tell you you can not do something. I’m sure you have heard that often, but it is true. Don’t fear failure, embrace it.
4. Social Justice and Activism: Creating positive change in society requires courage. Activists and advocates demonstrate immense courage by speaking up and challenging the status quo. They willingly face opposition, criticism, and even personal risks to fight for a more equitable and compassionate world.
In today’s society this is a very fine line. Many of the things going on today, I do not agree with. There is a red line for many things and a massive difference between mental insanity and “social justice or activism”, nonetheless the point here is about courage to speak up AND the courage to listen to all sides.
5. Personal Well-being and Self-Care: Self-care and prioritizing personal well-being also demand courage. It takes courage to set boundaries, say no to excessive commitments, and prioritize self-care in a society that often glorifies busyness and constant productivity and bank accounts. Courageous individuals prioritize their physical, emotional, and mental health, recognizing that self-care is not selfish but essential for leading a fulfilling and purposeful life.
This is tough, I agree. I had to learn early on to say on. I actually lost a job because of it.
You see, as we navigate life’s challenges, it’s important to remember that courage is not a one-time achievement but an ongoing practice. It requires self-awareness, self-compassion, and a willingness to face our fears with resilience and determination. The more we act in the presence of fear, the stronger our courage becomes, and the more we expand our capacity for growth and personal fulfillment.
So, as you embark on your own journey of embracing courage, remember that it is through courageous action that we unlock our true potential. Embrace fear as a companion rather than an obstacle, and be willing to act despite its presence. Celebrate every act of courage, no matter how small, and trust that each step forward will lead you closer to a life of authenticity, fulfillment, and personal greatness.
In the end, courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. It is the audacity to pursue our dreams, the resilience to overcome adversity, and the unwavering belief in our own ability to create a meaningful and purposeful life.
So, with that I dare you to be courageous. I dare you to act in the presence of fear. I dare you to speak up when you have that gut feeling that something is right. I dare you to help someone whether it’s grocery shopping or giving a stranger a hug. And in all of that, you’ll see, just watch as your life transforms into a magnificent testament to the power of courage.
Remember the mantra we tell our kids:
“I am willing to act in the presence of fear.”