When we talk about courage, we almost never point to our heads. We usually point to our chests. The word courage comes from the French word, coeur, for heart, meaning the ability to stand by our heart or to stand by our core. What breaks our hearts or awakens our hearts gives us the courage to act. Becoming aware of what we don’t want points us toward what we do want.
Courage is about being present. Real. Not faking it. Developing courage means letting go of other’s images of us and boldly showing people our inner world. Instead of fearless posturing, our authentic vulnerability makes us more readily available and people are drawn to our energy.
Five Ways to Expand Courage
- Face fear
- Explore vulnerability
- Take risks
- Celebrate disappointments
- Take action – again, and again, and again
We develop courage by facing our fears and tackling the big questions. When we perceive fear as negative or something to avoid, we create resistance that can magnify our fear. Our unconscious suppression numbs and deadens us and keeps us from living fully in the moment. We come across as inauthentic and we deprive others of our truth. Avoiding emotions in ourselves, whether it’s fear, anger, or sadness, keeps us from accepting ourselves and others. Whatever emotion we resist often becomes the one most persistent in our lives.
It’s natural to be fearful of following our hearts or baring our souls. Fear shows up to point us toward the things that we want most. When we acknowledge our heart’s desire, we take an emotional risk. And that’s the heart’s challenge — to explore our deepest desires. By connecting deeply to the energy of our desires, we can express them without fear of being misunderstood, ridiculed, or unappreciated. For those willing to take risks, passion is easily expressed, and revealing our inner core is a continual process of unfolding.
Sometimes we choose caution. We’re afraid of appearing either too conservative or too radical. We preserve our reputations, but at what price? Sometimes the price we pay is that we come across as passionless, mediocre, or unmemorable. The answer to “What will people think?” is that they will think nothing. If we hide our true selves or refuse to take a stand, we go unnoticed. We do not stand out in a crowd. It’s a courageous act to take a stand. When we edit our thoughts, rehearse our emotions, and act as we think we “should”, we hide our true selves. The unwillingness to give voice to our experience feeds the false self. The more we pretend, perform or withhold, the more we abandon our true self.
When we express our fears with vulnerability, others feel our experience deeply. We project richness when we share our experiences of trial and error. There’s no sense in pretending infallibility, because people see right through it. Instead of futilely trying to cover our weaknesses, we can increase our personal power by letting others see our humanity.
When we choose transparency over perfection, authenticity is unveiled. Sometimes we make the mistake of equating vulnerability with softness or weakness. Yet, the truth is that we all have a sensitive core. Strength is not petrified hardness but mental and emotional agility. When we’re in conflict emotionally, our bodies are twisted. When we let go of the facade, it shows up in our eyes and our voices. Sharing our unique experience conveys how special we are. When we admit our vulnerabilities we expose our true selves – without apology.
Another fear that can keep us from becoming more powerful is the fear of making a mistake or appearing foolish. As we courageously reveal our internal spark, we give ourselves full permission to take chances and make mistakes. Willingness to fail or make a mistake has a power all its own. We learn far less from doing things successfully than we learn from failure. Many entrepreneurs have admitted that their early failures and bankruptcies held more learning than any master’s degree.
We become more human and accessible through failure, and the pressure is off in the same way that a basketball team that loses its first game never has to worry about maintaining an undefeated season. Using mistakes to advantage unleashes our potency. When we trust our instincts, we take a more adventurous stance. Taking chances enables us to embrace our fear as fuel for continuous growth. Savor the pain of failure. Appreciate the learning that becomes available. Recognize the hidden gift of renewal it offers – the permission to begin again and again and again.
Stand up and be noticed! Taking risks may mean taking the opposite view, pushing the envelope, thinking the unthinkable, or radically departing from the status quo. Courageous leaders love the race of their own heartbeat. They are fueled by adrenaline. They paint risk with a broad brush. For some, it’s the seductive life of the gambler. Others are more calculated and certain of the outcome. Martin Luther King, Jr. sensed his time on earth would be short, when he said, “I have seen the promised land. I may not get there with you…” He climbed the mountain of risk so that others might live more fully, more freely because he wanted a better world.
Taking risks inevitably develops self-confidence and generates confidence from others. When you try something risky, a few may reject you. So what? They will be far outnumbered by the people who appreciate your vitality. Taking risks helps you become more genuine, more confident, and more courageous.
Acting boldly and truthfully reveals your beauty, your personal magic, and your charm. Life is choice. You can live your life in fear of making mistakes or you can live your life choosing to act in alignment with your deepest values. Which will you choose?
It would be foolish to suggest that being courageous means every act will be endorsed by society. Mignon McGlaughlin says, “Every society loves its alive conformists and its dead troublemakers.” Politicians know that making a desirable impact doesn’t always win followers. Sometimes rebellion, or doing things differently from the norm, is an act of self-sacrifice. Someone has to pave the way so that everyone can benefit. Rebels are a necessity in a free society for identifying unmet needs and planting the seeds of change.
A word of caution, however: sometimes rebels have trouble becoming effective leaders until they learn to shift from diminishing others to empowering others. It’s a fine thing to envision a better future, but it’s useless when coupled with indecisiveness or a reluctance to take action. Taking action and calling others to action is the undeniable attribute of a leader.
As you act on your courage, that doesn’t mean you’ll eradicate fear. As you evolve as a leader, your fears change shape, and become the fuel for growth. The challenge is to use fear as the signpost of where to move next. Fear is your personal invitation to develop your courage, to develop character, to develop your own personal code of honor. To know when to take action even when it isn’t always safe, known, or popular to do so is an act of courage. How will you accept life’s invitation to act with courage?
Written by Martha Lasley
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