Monday, August 20, 2012

Experience and Trust - The Sources of Courage

I have always dedicated a part of my Life to helping the underdog, whether it be a person who is struggling personally or professionally.

One of the disconnects that sometimes occurs is when we discuss the subject of courage.  Sometimes the people I am helping, especially in business, get frustrated or angry when I counsel them on courage, often responding with “What do you know?  Everything comes easily for you and you have no worries.  You don’t know what I am going through.”

Ah yes – I am a machine with no feelings at all.  Cold, calculating logic is what drives me forward.

If it were only that easy.

We who give advice to others in such situations know that our courage has developed over a lifetime of being encouraged (forced) to acquire it.

When people in start-ups come to me for advice and think that I’ve mastered courage, they didn’t see me when I cofounded my first start-up as I wondered why in the heck I would give up a steady paying job for this.

They didn’t see me staring at the wall at two in the morning as I wondered how my company would cover the payroll for the employees and families that relied on me.

They didn’t see me not sleep for days the first time I met Bill Gates as I wondered if he would even consider me worthy of speaking to.

They weren’t there holding my hand as I overcame various painful illnesses and injuries over the years.

All they see is the end-product.

They weren’t there when I was being encouraged (forced) to learn courage

Just as they are being encouraged (forced) to in their current circumstances.

And Then There Is Trust

One time I was flying back from a business trip when our plane was forced to make an emergency landing after a structural integrity compromise occurred on the plane (the pilot’s description, not mine).

After we had rehearsed the emergency landing position a couple of times, we had about an hour to kill (no pun intended) and I was reading Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power of Positive Thinking”.

The lady beside me grew agitated and demanded to know how I could read a book at a time like this.

My reply was basically “I have two options, both completely out of my control.  I might hit the ground at 500 miles per hour and feel no pain as I am killed instantly.  If that happens, my family will be taken care of by my insurance and I will be remembered as the only person in my family killed in a plane crash.  How cool is that?  My other option is that I will walk away from this totally unscathed.  So given that both options are out of my control and I know what all possible outcomes are, I have nothing else to do but read my book”.

She made a comment about how crazy I was and I continued my reading.

When we had landed safely, I turned to her and said “In the last hour of my Life, I finished a great book.  What did you do besides worry about something you couldn’t change?”.

Her answer can’t be repeated here.

There is an interesting point in Peale’s book.  Oftentimes our level of worry about a specific situation conjures up far worse outcomes than are likely to happen.  When we allow this to happen, it weakens our resolve and our ability to be brave and to push forward. 

As Norman Vincent Peale noted in his book, we are empowered to make better decisions when we know what the worst that can happen is instead of imagining what could happen.

And sometimes, when all else fails, we have to leave our destiny up to luck (if you believe in luck, which I don’t) or Divine Providence.

We have to trust and believe that it will all work out as it is meant to.

And when it does (or even if it doesn’t), we should have experienced a growth in our courage capability.

Even Mark Twain couldn’t escape the negative power of courage-sapping worry when he noted:

“Some of the worst things in my life never happened”.

Don Herold noted a similar thought when he said:

“If I had my life to live over, I would perhaps have more actual troubles but I'd have fewer imaginary ones.”

So if you seek courage …..

So for those who seek courage in the middle of turmoil, when someone steps forward to help, don’t assume they have acquired it without facing it as well.  For this reason, they need to be patient with the person that Providence has placed before them.  They have wisdom if the seeker is open to receiving it.

When I think of this, I think of the song “Rainy Day People” by Gordon Lightfoot when he says:

“Rainy day people always seem to know
when it's time to call
Rainy day people don't talk, they just listen
till they've heard it all
Rainy day lovers don't lie when they tell 'ya
they've been down like you
Rainy day people don't mind if you're cryin'
a tear or two”

And if you are helping someone find courage ….

For those who offer help to those in need, we know that one can only have courage once one has been forced to learn it.  Empty platitudes about “being strong” are worthless to the person who has yet to overcome their demons.  For this reason, we need to be patient with the person who strives to find courage in times of difficulty.  They have lessons to offer the teacher in the areas of teaching , patience and humility, if we are open to receiving them.

After all, we were once in the same position and may find ourselves in the same position in the future.

Life would be a lot easier if we were born with infinite amounts of courage.

But it would contain fewer opportunities for a feeling of victory - the joy (and relief) that comes when one thinks “I / we overcame all odds when we ………..” or when one tells a story of their personal “Hollywood ending”.

And remember, one never masters courage.  To believe one has mastered it is challenging the Universe to offer a new lesson in acquiring more.

To your courage, whatever level it may be.

In service and servanthood,


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