Most dictionaries define Courage as some variation of “the ability to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation.”
Many people often think of courage when they think of the military—those men and women who bravely defend those who cannot defend themselves. Yes, that is certainly courage. However, we don’t often think of the courage required of us almost every single day of our lives. There are a host of things that require courage, no matter what stage of life or what situation in which you find yourself. It’s necessary in: love/commitment, staking your independence from your family, confronting illness and disease, surviving abuse or a traumatic childhood, aging, learning to be yourself, creativity, career and relationship changes, and following your dreams.
All of these situations (and many more) make us confront fear. And we have only two real instinctive responses to fear—fight or flight, both of which are strongly rooted in self-preservation. If we stand against that fear, the question we ask ourselves is will I survive this? Can I find the couarge to fight and to conquer this fear? Or will it overwhelm me?
When I was a teenager, we used to swim at a nearby mountain lake during the summer. However, swimming at this particular spot took a certain amount of courage. Not just because you didn’t know what else might be swimming under the water you were about to jump into, but also because there was this one tree that towered over the lake that we used as a high-dive. And I mean really, really high. Someone had nailed boards to the side of the tree, creating a make-shift ladder. This tree was huge. It was awesome. And it was terrifying at the same time. The question you asked yourself as you stood at the top was, would you survive the jump? Sound familiar?
I had no problem taking the initial step to climb that tree. I’ve never been averse to the idea of risk. It’s the actual leap that got me. And still gets me. Even to this day, I remember how long it sometimes took me to work up my courage to take the step off that limb to plunge into the murky cold waters of the lake below.
I don’t think I’ve changed much when I comes to life’s challenges today. I have no problem taking the initial risk required to meet a challenge. I scale that tree willingly and easily, no matter how much work it takes to get to the top or how tall the tree. It’s only when I get to the moment where I need to leap from security (well, relative security in this case) into nothingness that I have a problem. When I ask myself, will I survive?
So, if I look back to this example, how did I do it? How did I overcome my huge fear of jumping off of that tree limb into the lake? As I stood high above the water, trembling, worrying about what I was about to do, what did I do? I bit my lip. I wondered if this was a good idea. I knew this was a horrible idea. I believed I could soar. I was certain I would fall. I inched to the edge. I shrank back. I crept to the edge again. I took a deep breath. I closed my eyes. Then I stepped off that tree. I took the plunge. I embraced courage and I was scared to death.
So, what’s the moral of the story? When faced with challenges in your life where you’re afraid—and yes, oftentimes, there’s fear involved with risk—do what you need to take that next step, whatever it is. It might be just putting one foot in front of another. Whether you’re facing a job change, a career change, a new living situation, a new change in status of life—engagement, marriage, babies, empty nest, reduced income—whatever it is . . . remember to breathe. Then continue to put one foot in front of the other.
Sometimes, that’s the biggest step you can take and sometimes it’s the step that sends you soaring off the high-dive . . . but it’s always the most courageous thing you can do, because you’re taking action despite your fear. And action is courage. The Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz believes his fear makes him less courageous and inadequate.
But, truly, courage means acting in the face of fear . . . every day, in everything we do. It takes courage to live life and face difficulties. As Mark Twain said, “Courage is resistence to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” We all face difficulties every day. How will you handle tomorrow’s challenge? Will you stand strong against fear to resist, master, and overcome it? Say, yes.