….It is acting in spite of it.
Courage is a trait we associate with heroes, successful businessmen and women, and those who stand tall and take action despite horrible odds. Seen in many forms, courage is something we often discuss and long for. If courage were a concrete item we could purchase at the store, some entrepreneur would be filthy rich off selling this elusive quality. Although it’s something we all long for, we often don’t know how to define courage. In order to effectively obtain something, we have to know exactly what it is we’re charging after. Courage is not the lack of fear.
One act of courage that comes to mind is the story of Chris Mintz. On October 1, 2015 he saved countless lives by facing the shooter at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. According to his family, Chris tried to block the door of the classroom to stop the shooter from coming in. He was shot 7 times, broke both of his legs, and has an extensive recovery ahead of him. Chris Mintz is a hero for putting others before himself and standing in the face of fatal danger.
Joel Dobis Jr. is another fine example of a courageous act. The new police officer and his veteran partner, Robin Hill, responded to a call in Detroit, Michigan in December 2014. They came across a woman who was hiding a razor blade. When the woman drew the blade to attack Officer Hill, Officer Dobis jumped in front of his partner and took the hit for her. In an interview, Dobis told the media, “I knew I had to take the blows to save my partner’s life… I knew that I had to protect her.” Dobis had to get 61 stitches and three plastic surgeries. You can read more of his story here.
In hearing these stories, we know these two men acted courageously. Countless others show courage every day, too. Courage isn’t the absence of fear but rather the deliberate choice to act when we are fearful. I’m certain that Chris Mintz felt fear as he lunged towards the shooter. Joel Dobis Jr. knew that a razor blade to the throat would be the end of his life. Yet, these men channeled their fears and used that energy to act.
It doesn’t take a life-threatening situation to muster up courage. Luckily, most of us won’t be presented with a gunman at school or a deranged woman with a razor blade. What we will face, though, is some kind of fear in our personal lives. Along with having more confidence, having more courage is at the top of the list of positive traits we’d like to see in ourselves. Take a look at someone’s New Year’s Resolutions list. If you look at someone’s list who is introspective and driven, something on that list will push them out of their comfort zone. It might be something like, “make amends with dad,” or “travel to a foreign country alone.” Think about New Year’s Resolutions you’ve made yourself in past years. Didn’t at least one involve something just a bit scary to you? This is the reason so many resolutions end up untouched and unfinished- we often lack the courage we need to conquer our goals.
I personally believe that a little fear is healthy. If you know about psychology, you’re probably familiar with the fight or flight response to danger. Fear is such a primal drive that animals are equipped with a means to make decisions when fear presents itself. We can choose to stay put and take on the danger whether it be a snarling lion or another barbaric caveman, or we can choose to run away and retreat from the danger. While there is a time and a place for both responses, I would argue that many of us need to stop “flighting” and start fighting.
We often claim that we work well under pressure. We make excuses for our procrastination by claiming stake to such phrases. The truth is, we actually can work well under the right kind of pressure and fear. We just need the tools to do it.
I’m going to be blunt and tell you that working up courage isn’t easy, and it certainly doesn’t feel good at the time. Maybe you’re the kind of person who hates public speaking. You are completely fine with doing all the backend work and letting your colleague present at the board meeting and, as such, take all the credit for the presentation. Enough is enough! You can gather up the courage to take charge and present in the board room! At first, you’re going to fight yourself. You’ll have that inner dialogue where your two selves argue with one another. It will go something like this:
“It’s about time I start getting credit for all the work I’m doing. I’ve got to step up to the plate and present my own work so Mr. Smith knows just how valuable I am to this team!”
“But what if I make a total fool of myself and Mr. Smith thinks I’m totally incompetent?”
“Who cares?! I’d rather go down for a great attempt than sit back any longer and watch Sam take all the credit here!”
“If Sam gets all the credit, he’s also stuck with the downfall when things go wrong, though.”
This conversation will flip back and forth for weeks. I’m going to save you some time and sanity and tell you to just quiet your naysaying conscience. If you want the reward, you have to do the work, and that includes conquering your fears with boldness and courage- not just doing the easy, behind-the-scenes work.
The frustrating thing about courage is that it takes courage to get more courage. Once you tackle that first board meeting, you’ll feel a bit better about your next speaking engagement. That first time, though, is going to feel like a doozy. You’re going to get that butterflies in your stomach feeling. That’s okay. Harness that fear. Do you really think Chris Mintz and Joel Dobis Jr. didn’t feel the same way? Nonsense! Courage is not the lack of fear!!
Courage compartmentalizes itself, which further complicates your life. I know it’s frustrating, but tackling your fear of public speaking doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have the courage right away to skydive out of a plane. The harsh reality is that the more you want to grow, the more areas in which you’ll have to muster up courage.
As you seek courage, remember that you’ve already got your fear as a catalyst. As a solar-powered car harnesses energy from the sun in order to move, you can learn to harness your fears in order to move forward, too.