I have been told many times over the last ten years that I am brave, that I have courage. This comment is usually made when I’m facing a challenge head on, or starting something new – perhaps something that I’ve never done before.
Most of the time, I don’t feel brave. Usually, I feel nervous, anxious and, at times, fearful. But, I go ahead and do that next thing, try that new thing, anyway.
And that is the essence of courage. To do what you have decided to do or what needs to be done, regardless of how you feel – and it has nothing to do with not feeling afraid.
It may be doing something physically risky – like a bungee jump off Auckland Bridge (which I did in 2012). It may be emotional courage – like facing life as a single after decades of marriage. It may be having courage with finances – such as deciding to invest in myself and begin a new business in my 60s.
Courage is about taking action – taking that next step – regardless of how you feel, and regardless of the future being unknown. And being brave is something that can be developed because courage, like so many other qualities, is a habit.
Like other habits – exercising regularly, eating healthily, not biting your fingernails, sleeping well – we can choose to develop courage each time we are faced with a situation that confronts us. We can choose to move forward or we can choose to stay where we are.
Each time we choose to step into that new thing – a new role, a change in relationship, make a hard decision – we develop our courage. And each time we choose not to move forward, each time we are paralysed by fear or indecision, our courage muscles slacken so that when the next challenge comes our way it is easier to default to avoidance and give in to fear.
Fear is a natural part of life. Like any other emotion, fear has no moral value – it is neither ‘wrong’ nor ‘right’. Fear is part of being human and it sweeps over us without warning, without being invited. But fear does not need to rule our decisions.
And that is the essence of courage – feeling the fear associated with facing a challenge, with attempting something hard or unfamiliar, with taking a risk and then moving forward. Each time we take that step forward into our fears, they give way because most fear has little basis in reality – it is merely a shadow, a might-be, a what-if. As we step into those shadows we see they have no substance and melt away.
So take heart. Just as fear is a common human experience, so can courage be. We just have to choose to be brave.