Courage is not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.
Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.
Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.
Many of my blog posts up to this point have dealt with the darker or negative sides of ourselves: our Leadership Shadows and the fears associated with them. We also explored vulnerability, forgiveness, and trust as the essential elements which are necessary for self-actualization. Today, I would like to explore courage: what it is, what it is not, and why it serves as the “testing point” or bridge that, when practiced, closes the gap between our current state and our desired state where our highest potential and purpose await.
First, let’s define courage. “Courage” comes from the Latin word cor, which means to tell the story of who you are with “all of your heart.” It is important, very important, to note that courage is not the absence of fear. Nor is it bravado or reckless abandon. Rather, courage refers to managing your fear and allowing yourself to step into vulnerability with confidence.
To really understand courage, we have to explore its counterpart, fear. In his book “The Gift of Fear,” Gavin de Becker discusses the essential role that fear, manifested in our “fight/flight” response, plays in our survival. There are times when our intuition, or “Spidey Sense” as I call it, informs us of danger, if we are willing to listen. Plunging headfirst into the dark alley anyway, or ignoring the warning signs of a destructive relationship, are not examples of bravery or courage. Rather, they are examples of not hearing, or not trusting, your intuition.
At EnPro Industries we have a very powerful exercise that allows individuals to experience “courage” as it was originally defined: to tell your story with your whole heart. In our myVoice exercise, the individual considers the major emotional events that have shaped him or her during a lifetime. It is most effective to go back to the earliest memory you can, considering an event or experience (usually negative) that still impacts you today. Using a structure process, participants are asked to consider such questions as: What happened? What core or tacit beliefs did you develop as a result of that experience? What positive things do you gain by maintaining this core belief? And, most importantly, what price do you pay for holding onto this core belief? Then, after some time to prepare, everyone is invited to sit in front of the group and to tell their story, with their whole heart. To say the experience is powerful, emotional, and a little intimidating is an understatement. It is also quite often the starting point for true personal growth and transformation.
When you think of courage as the bridge or “testing point” that carries us through vulnerability and connects us to our highest potential, it is a powerful image. Rather than reacting to our fears by micromanaging (Fear of Failure), avoiding conflict (Fear of Rejection), or intimidating others (Fear of Betrayal), courage allows us to identify and acknowledge them, and rise above them. For Achievers, it is stepping into ambiguity and letting go of perfection. For Affirmers, it is stepping into confrontation and letting go of approval. And, for Asserters it is stepping into vulnerability and letting go of control.
Jung said that we are not the sum total of the things that have happened to us; rather, we are who we choose to become. The myVoice exercise helps you understand what has shaped you up to this point, and to calculate the ‘price’ you may be paying for maintaining this core belief. Oftentimes, you realize that you must let the past go so that you can claim your future. Courage is the testing point and the path, the only path, to reclaim this inherent freedom to chart your own course.
Is your current path shrinking or expanding?