“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”
Courage = “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.”
I love the specific phrase “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person” from the definition above. How is the quality of your mind right now? What are you doing to enhance it? Do you know how or what to do to improve in this area? How can you demonstrate courage when needed if you aren’t intentionally caring for the quality of your mind or spirit daily?
It is interesting to think that one needs courage to practice any other virtue consistently. But to have courage, one must have a strong quality of mind or spirit. To accomplish this seemingly circular argument, you must have the fortitude to look in the mirror and hold yourself accountable for doing whatever it takes to heighten the quality of your own spirit. If you don’t, then you are choosing by omission to live a weak life, lacking in courage…
“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”
Harriet Beecher Stowe
What motivates you to carry on despite the struggles you are facing? How do you know when it is time to quit? How do you choose to persevere when everything seems to be stacked against you?
In 2013 I participated in the inaugural Ironman Lake Tahoe (IMLT) endurance race. I had completed my first Ironman race in 2011 and found I really enjoyed the training that goes into preparing your body to be tested by a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike, and a 26.2-mile run. I chose to sign up for Lake Tahoe simply because of the sheer beauty of the location and as an opportunity to see a place I had never been before. I trained my heart out all summer and when race day arrived on September 23, 2013, I was ready.
The race was epic in every sense of the word. It was indescribably beautiful, the Sierra Nevada mountains with their snow-tipped peaks visible in every direction, and it was also incredibly challenging. It was so cold the morning of the race that the 64-degree water in Lake Tahoe felt warm and swimming at 6,200 of elevation was just a unique and special challenge. The best way to describe it is to imagine trying to swim while breathing through a single drinking straw. The bike was extraordinarily difficult due to the mountains you had to cross and the grade of the climbs involved (I looked down at my speedometer at one point and I was moving 3 miles per hour). The run was relatively flat but it was so cold down by the river that staying warm was an impossible challenge.
The DNF rate (did not finish) at IMLT in 2013 was north of 23% and I very easily could have been one of those who did not finish. The run was very tough and there were several points where quitting was probably the smartest option. I developed blisters on the bottom of my left foot at mile 8 that were so bad that I had to stop twice at the medical tents to get treatment. Every step was painful and I thought my foot was on fire. But quitting, walking away and actually ending my race early, never crossed my mind for more than a fleeting moment.
Why didn’t I quit? What kept me going when I knew I had 18 miles still to go and my foot was in severe pain? I certainly wasn’t racing for money or a spot on the podium. I am a very atypical triathlete at 6′ 4″ tall and 225 pounds. I wasn’t going to “win” anything. What kept me going was a relentless focus on what I wanted to accomplish by completing this race. My goal was to prove to myself that the mind is stronger than the body. I wanted to challenge myself to take on more than I could handle, and then plow through the wall. I knew I could finish if I stopped thinking about the seemingly insurmountable distance that was remaining and just focused on what was right in front of me at that moment.
I vividly remember the aid station at mile eight where I first stopped to have my foot checked out. I got up and ran/hobbled a few steps and my mind immediately went to a “there’s no way I can do this for 18 more miles” headspace. I remember taking a moment to gather my thoughts and remember what I was attempting to prove to myself, and thinking, “I can make it to mile nine.” So I did. And then mile ten, eleven, twelve, and on and on. I still remember mile 23 like it was yesterday. At that point I knew all was left was a 5k and in my mind, anybody can run a 5k. Running through that finish line chute was one of the most exhilarating and rewarding moments of my life. Should I have quit? Maybe. But I didn’t, and because of this, I learned more about myself than I could ever glean from a lifetime of reading or study.
Sometimes quitting will seem to be the easiest and perhaps the only option available. Before you allow yourself to go down the mental path of quitting I highly recommend that you take the time to think through the following questions.
Why did you start?
Why is this important?
What will matter more a year from now, that you persevered, or that you quit?
Who will you be letting down?
What is God teaching you through this challenge?
If you don’t take the time to answer these, I can almost guarantee that you will regret your decision. If you do answer them, and quitting is still the smartest and best option, you can do so with full faith and confidence that you thought through your decision fully and completely.
Even after you have answered the questions remind yourself of these things when you are tempted to throw in the towel and walk away.
This is all temporary – Tomorrow will come, and so will next week, next month, and next year.
The goal is bigger than the pain – If you had the courage to start something you had to have a reason why. Don’t lose sight of your goal.
When in doubt, break your goal down into the smallest possible step that can be achieved. And then do it again and again and again.
Some things are bigger than yourself – Some challenges, goals, and opportunities rise above your individual feelings and perceptions. Don’t let the voice in your head convince you to lose sight of this.
Who you will become as a person is defined by your decisions and actions in the most difficult times.
Quitting and failing are two different things. Don’t confuse them.
I share this story not because I did anything particularly amazing (I didn’t!), but because it was the best and most vivid personal example I could think of from my life. What I learned is that sometimes the reward is just on the other side of the breaking point…
“Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.”
I have always deeply admired those who have the courage to start something new. Those who possess the ability to see the worldnot for what it is, but for what it could be. These are the people who dare to spread their wings and fly, knowing they might fall. They do so understanding success isn’t guaranteed, but by leaping, they might be able to impact the world in a bigger and better way.
Courage is needed whether a person is starting a new role or project in their current organization, starting their own company, or simply doing something outside of their comfort zone. This courage, this ability to take on risk and move, despite any fears and doubts, that is what intrigues me so greatly. How does a person come by this? How does one learn courage? Is it genetic? Is it formed during childhood perhaps? Or maybe it comes through the experiences we have as we grow through life? What separates those who have courage from those who don’t?
Regardless of how courage is formed, I believe the formula for demonstrating it consistently comes down to one’s ability to answer these five questions:
What is it that MUST happen? This is the question that frames out the opportunity in your mind and allows you to paint a vivid depiction of a better future. This is where one defines the opportunities and articulates exactly what you want to see happen. Creating a deeply detailed “envisioned future” is the first step in summoning courage.
What am I afraid of? This is where you wrestle with your own demon that will try to hold you back and prevent your successes. Whether it is fear of failure, fear of being seen as a fraud, fear of being wrong, etc. You can’t beat your fears if you haven’t identified them and faced them directly. Fear is a demon, and if you want to beat it, you have to look it squarely in the face.
Am I willing to fail? This is the keystone question. Answering the first two questions enables one to arrive here and wrestle with the knowledge that not every initiative and opportunity seized will be successful. There are no guarantees in life. All the courage in the world could still result in failure. Is this acceptable to you?
What is the worst that can happen? This is where you nail down the absolute worst possible outcomes that could arise from the opportunity you are contemplating taking on. If you can’t think through and anticipate the problems that will invariably rise up, then you can’t make an informed decision about whether or not the risk you are taking on is worth it.
How do I mitigate the worst risks outlined above? When you have defined and understand the worst possible outcomes then you can begin to build solutions to offset those risks. For example, if you are taking on a new project at work outside your area of expertise and the associated risk is that you might lose your job, seeking out expert training, books, or mentors might be a good way to mitigate the risk. Not all risks can, and should, be mitigated. But when you can you have to do so if you want to create success.
This is what separates those who have courage from those who don’t. Those who create success through courageous decisions have an ability to see a better future, define their fears, understand failure, identify worst-case scenarios, and build in success enabling strategies in case the worst happens.
Then comes the moment of truth. Can you make the decision? This is the magic moment where you have to leap and have faith in yourself, those whom you have surrounded yourself with, and trust in a higher purpose and calling.
So go forth and do. Take on that new project. Embrace your new role. Start that new job. Build the company you have been dreaming of. Embark on a journey to create a better world for others. When you show up courageously you will truly feel alive and the world will be better because of it…
“Courage is contagious. Every time we choose courage, we make everyone around us a little better and the world a little braver.”
All behavior is contagious. So you need to do two things. First, have the courage to surround yourself with people whose behavior you want to catch. Second, have the courage to make sure your own behavior is worth catching….
“What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have.”
How much time do you spend really and deeply reflecting on your truth? Not the truth that others are waiting to hear or a perception of how facts should be but really truly understanding what you know and believe.
If you don’t know your truth how can you speak it?
“Courage is being scared to death… and saddling up anyway.”
Howmany things in life do we not do, or not do well, simply because we are afraid of committing ourselves fully and completely? We only go so far, but then quit because we are afraid of putting forth the effort it will take to get the job truly done.
Do you have the courage to hold yourself accountable and commit 100% effort towards the hard work?
“What’s the point of having a voice if you’re gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn’t be?”
There are times when you know you must speak up, and times when you know you should bite your tongue. How do you know when to do which one? That is when the principle of wisdom comes into play? I like to use these two questions to gauge my thoughts and decide when I should say something.
“One year from now, regardless of the consequences will I be glad that I said whatever it?” “Will it matter that I said it?”
“If you aren’t gonna say exactly how and what you feel, you might as well not say anything at all.”
There is such incredible value in having the awareness to understand what you feel and why, AND the courage to communicate it to others in a way that serves to enhance the relationship, not shut it down.
To know something, and bottle it up, might rob those around you of incredible insight and knowledge. It might diminish your standing and ability to get really important things done.
Having something to say, and not saying it, is like getting someone a gift and not giving it…
“A lot of cheap seats in the arena are filled with people who never venture onto the floor. They just hurl mean-spirited criticisms and put-downs from a safe distance. The problem is, when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. Therefore, we need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives. For me, if you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.”
I heard this quote referenced by someone that I really respect yesterday and had to go look it up. Specifically the quote that she referenced was: “if you’re not in the arena also getting your ass kicked, I’m not interested in your feedback.” I love that last sentence but I think I appreciate the wisdom in the prior lines just as much.
It is so easy for people to get in the arena and feel that they have the right to criticize and attack simply because they are present. Don’t believe this is true? Sit in any football stadium in America and listen to the fans around you. You will hear things like “that referee is blind,”“the quarterback missed a wide open receiver, he can’t throw the ball,” and “the coaches don’t know what they are doing.” Are the fans right? Maybe sometimes they are. But they aren’t the ones on the field. They don’t have the pressure of having to perform in front of others, they can simply sit there and offer input without having had to invest any blood, sweat or tears. Now I have been guilty of doing this plenty of times myself and unfortunately it isn’t just when I have been at a sporting event…
I believe that the most beautiful wisdom in the quote is contained in the lines right before the part about getting your ass kicked: “The problem is, when we stop caring what people think and stop feeling hurt by cruelty, we lose our ability to connect. But when we’re defined by what people think, we lose the courage to be vulnerable. Therefore, we need to be selective about the feedback we let into our lives.“
Who are you letting into your life? Who are you giving permission to provide feedback that truly matters and is meaningful? Are those people in the arena with you?
There are really two ways a person can be in the arena. They can be there in the literal sense, side by side in the fight. Or they can be there with you in spirit fighting alongside you and supporting your struggle. The key is that they are fighting with you, not attacking you. They are on your side. If they aren’t then they truly aren’t in the arena with you, or perhaps they are, they are just on the other side of the sword…
The arena quote that Brene is pulling from is one of my all time favorites and I have a copy of it on a plaque in my office that I reference regularly. Here it is in it’s entirety:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
“If you are lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it.”
What is it that you love to do? Have you found a way to make a living from it? So many people in this world have “jobs” that they do to simply earn a living. If you can find the beautiful intersection between a calling, a passion, and God gifted purpose you are a lucky soul indeed.
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28
Perhaps you aren’t lucky at all, perhaps you are just blessed…
“Self-control is the chief element in self-respect and self-respect is the chief element in courage.”
This quote took some time for me to think through and meditate on the deep meaning behind the words. Clarity came for me when I started at the end and worked my way backwards through the quote. (Begin with the end in mind…) Below is my interpretation of each of these components and then the dictionary definition.
Courage = The ability to stand up for what you believe in, regardless of personal implications. The dictionary definition is: “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.”
Self-Respect = The awareness one has for who you are, what you believe in and why you believe what you do. The dictionary definition is: “a proper respect for oneself as a human being.”
Self-Control = That ability and discipline to make decisions that limit the control the outside world and your emotions have over your actions. The dictionary definition is: “restraint exercised over one’s own impulses, emotions, or desires.”
Working my way backwards through these gave me these thoughts. If I want to demonstrate courage in my thinking and actions (which I do) then I must know who I am and what I believe in, i.e., self-respect. To have this degree of self-respect I must have (self)–control over my emotions and impulses so that my behaviors are a product of choice, not a reflection of others or the outside world.
So, when thinking through it this way it brings these questions to mind. What are the areas of my life and decision making that need greater discipline and control? How do poor decisions, or lack of decision, lead to lessened self-respect? What is the courage I wish to have and how can I change myself through discipline and self-control? What changes can I make that will reflect outwardly who I am and what I believe?
Heavy stuff for early in the morning but something I found to be both clarifying and thought provoking.
“Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
Sitting around waiting for things to happen just sucks. I am the world’s worst at being patient because sometimes patience just feels too much like inaction. I’ve long lived by the tule that it is better to do something, even if it is wrong, than to do nothing at all.
When you are doing something, anything, then you don’t have time to be afraid and worry about all the “what ifs.” Sometimes the action can be physical, sometimes it can be sitting down to reflect and plan the work. Doing something is the key. There is no time or space for sitting idly by in life. If you do, then you will reap what you sow which is nothing…
“You can choose courage, or you can choose comfort, but you cannot choose both.”
Which of these appeals more to you? It is easy to say “courage” but then you have to follow it up with action. I think another way of saying this is “You can choose change, or you can choose complacency, but you cannot choose both.”
It takes courage to change. It takes courage to recognize that something needs to be better. It takes courage to take action and hold yourself accountable to a higher standard than anyone else.
If you choose comfort that is your choice. Just don’t be upset if you don’t achieve what you dream about. It takes courage not comfort to achieve your dreams.
“Do. The. Work. Every day, you have to do something you don’t want to do. Every day. Challenge yourself to be uncomfortable, push past the apathy and laziness and fear. Otherwise, the next day you’re going to have two things you don’t want to do, then three and four and five, and pretty soon, you can’t even get back to the first thing. And then all you can do is beat yourself up for the mess you’ve created, and now you’ve got a mental barrier to go along with the physical barriers.”
Tim S. Grover
This quote comes from a book titled From Good to Great to Unstoppable that is is a very worthwhile read. Tim is a trainer/performance coach for some of the world’s most elite athletes. The kind of people who win championships and are the top 1% of the top 1%. The type of folks that demonstrate the work ethic and drive written about above.
Do you know what is interesting about this? Every single one of us has this opportunity in our lives. We might not all be genetically gifted by God to play football or basketball but every single one of us has the ability to “Do. The. Work.” It is a choice. Being a champion at something take relentless effort and doesn’t come without a high personal cost.
You have to choose to do the work. You can either own the work, or the work will own you. It’s your choice, but make no mistake, it is a choice. Choose wisely.