Throughout my life, I have thought a lot about what it means to be courageous. Like others, I have been overcome by fears, insecurities and anxieties at different points in my life. As a new mother, when I founded Rewire Me, and when my father passed away, I wondered how I could overcome my fears of the future and tackle the new roles and challenges I was facing.
Of course this is nothing compared to what others face and handle. When we think of the fear that members of the military and others had to face and push through on infamous days like 9/11 or D-Day, or when we watch the journey of the Syrian refugees, we may actually feel ill just imagining their anxiety. We may also doubt, at our very core, our own bravery or wonder how anyone can muster that kind of courage.
Along my own journey towards being more courageous, I remember finding inspiration in the following quote by the poet E E Cummings, “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.” This lead me to discover three things that I draw on when I feel less courageous than I’d like.
1. Understand your motivation.
I’ve heard it said that you can do anything you set your mind to if you have a strong enough “why.” One of the reasons our firefighters, coast guard and first responders do what they do is because they believe in something bigger than themselves: to protect and defend, even at the cost of their own lives.
While few of us will ever have the kind of trials they face, our own challenges can feel just as big. Does a medical student or intern enjoy living frugally during all those years of study just to pay their tuition bills? Do they like going without sleep or giving up time with their loved ones? No, but they persist because of something bigger than them: a career in which they can help people profoundly.
2. Allow yourself to be different.
One of the reasons I founded Rewire Me is being certain that I wanted to do something else with my life that mattered (in addition to being a loving wife, daughter and mother). I felt strongly about my dream because I knew it would benefit others, but I still had doubts. Could I—or should I—move away from a successful career to an unknown, just because I wanted to follow my passion?
In order to realize my dream of helping others, I had to give myself permission to follow my own path. This takes courage—to go against our fears, or what other might think. We tend to feel more comfortable and secure when we have the approval or consent of others.
I let the confidence I felt about my vision and my plans permeate my entire being until it bolstered my own confidence. This meant, at times, letting go of the expectations that others had of me. So remember to look inside yourself for answers, instead of giving up your power. It will bolster your courage and confidence.
3. Courage is like any other muscle or skill.
It takes practice and a few failures along the way in order to master a skill. On my days of doubt, I would remember that every mountain is climbed one step at a time—and that there are a lot of steps on any courageous journey. I am more courageous today than I was as a young teen, because I followed this advice.
Look for the small steps you can take regularly to grow from where you are to where you want to be. If you’re afraid to change careers, instead of doing nothing, do some research or consult with experts until you have more information and therefore feel more certain of your next steps.
As Eleanor Roosevelt put it: “Courage is more exhilarating than fear and in the long run it is easier. We do not have to become heroes overnight. Just a step at a time, meeting each thing that comes up, seeing it is not as dreadful as it appeared, discovering we have the strength to stare it down.”
I will leave you with this final thought. When a hero is interviewed on TV, it’s common that he or she will say something like: I’m not a hero. I was just doing what I had to do—what anyone else would do in the same situation. Have faith that you will rise up to reach whatever challenges you face, with more courage and confidence as time goes on.