What is Courage?

by Jimmy Warden

To me, courage should be defined as acting nobly in the face of uncertainty. Many times during life we find ourselves in a situation where we are unsure of what the outcome of our actions will be, no matter what decision we ultimately make. When faced with this uncertainty we tend to have the choice to metaphorically run from it or confront it, face to face. There also tends to be an underlying fear or unwillingness to act when we play out the scenario of confronting the uncertainty. This is where courage manifests because if that fear or unwillingness wasn’t present, courage wouldn’t be needed to act.

In order to build courage, we must begin to act when we are faced with something that is fear or anxiety provoking. Even if the something is creating fear or an unwillingness, often times there is an underlying fear or anxiety beneath our conscious thoughts. For example, an individual might want to start adopting a new regiment of reading more. They begin this regiment like they’ve been shot out of a cannon. They are reading pages upon pages and perhaps they’ve even finished a book or two. Soon enough, life starts to creep in. Job responsibilities come out of nowhere. Friends keep asking them to socialize because they’ve been absent from the friend groups since beginning this new reading regiment.

Soon enough, the fear and anxiety starts to creep in, too. How many things does my boss want me to do? Is this even manageable? Why do my friends keep asking me to hang out when all we do is discuss the same mundane topics between staring at our phone screens? If I stop replying to their texts or tell them about my new regiment will they continue the friendship or just drop me like a bad habit?

These conscious thought questions all stem from subconscious fears and anxieties that are present. Subconsciously, this individual is afraid that their current skill set is not adequate enough to fulfill their boss’ requests. This is based off the questions regarding the number of tasks and their manageability. They are worried that their job has an unmanageable amount of tasks and this sparks fear from the subconscious inadequacy. The conscious questions this individual asks in regards to their friends come from a very similar place. They are consciously concerned their friends are unwilling to accept their new regiment and therefore, they might have to find a new group of friends. They are also concerned that if they continue to behave in the same manner that they have been with their friends, they won’t become the person they want to be. This creates fear because of the subconscious need to be part of a social group and to be the best version of themselves. Think Abraham Maslow’s idea of self-actualization, as well as his hierarchy of needs.

As a result of all of this conscious and subconscious fear and anxiety, this individual likely dropped their new regiment altogether in favor of the certainty in life that they previously had. The certainty that their boss can count on them for anything, the certainty that they are a valued employee, and the certainty that they are a part of a social group and belong. Al three examples of certainty provided imply that the individual has completed their boss’ requests and joined their friends in their mundane habits. The reason this individual made this decision was because of the never-ending journey to fulfill the aforementioned hierarchy of needs (see image in header), considering that people must have their esteem needs met before they can self-actualize.

However, it is still disheartening to think that this individual stopped their journey to self-actualization because they did not have the courage to continue in the face of uncertainty. This is due to the fact that they did not have a plan for what to do when faced with uncertainty. This is why it is extremely important for us to articulate our fears and anxiety, so that we know when those things will creep into our lives, and knowing that is a big part of winning the battle. Once we know when we will be afraid or anxious, we can begin to take courageous action by planning out our first step to confront those fears and worries. Once we are able to do this with consistency, we can start to take larger steps until we are eventually manifesting what we truly wanted in the first place. Then, we can go through our list of fears and anxieties and confront them one by one.

Going back to the example we used, that particular individual could write down the questions that came to their head in order to begin coming up with a plan on how to begin acting nobly in the face of those uncertainties. Perhaps, it’s asking their boss what the purpose is of the extra responsibilities. Perhaps, it’s asking if any other colleagues have also been assigned extra tasks, too. Perhaps, it’s asking their friends why they always partake in the same things over and over again. Perhaps, it’s asking themselves if their friends are really helping them reach their potential. Whatever it is, it’s important to find a starting point and build from there. Maybe, this person finds out their boss is delegating responsibilities because they too have been given extra assignments by their boss. Maybe, they find out their friends are feeling the same way as them about their mundane routines and are looking for a change of pace. No matter what the first step is and what information is learned as a result, none of that could have happened without first thinking of what was causing the fear and anxiety and what courageous or noble action could be taken first. Once that is understood, our courageous journeys can begin.

Therefore, if we want to be courageous, we must voluntarily face our fears and anxieties, whatever they might be, because they vary from person to person, but they tend to stem from similar places within the hierarchy of needs. Each time we act nobly in the face of uncertainty, we demonstrate to others, but more importantly ourselves, that we can be courageous. Often times we sell ourselves short and don’t act courageously in the favor of comfort and certainty. We think people who are doing paramount things have NO FEAR, but in reality, they just KNOW FEAR. They’ve thought about it, expressed it, articulated it, and formulated a plan to begin acting to grow their courage, despite the fear. It is quite a process, growing courage, but just know that even if our role models can do it, we can too.

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