They’re not the loudest.
They’re not the strongest.
They don’t live privileged lives.
They don’t (necessarily) take the biggest risks.
Some people just seem to have the internal strength — the guts — to act on their own terms, do push through their fears, to do what they believe is right and true.
How do they do it?
What makes people courageous?
Courage is simply the ability to do what you fear. We’re not born with it. We can’t learn it in a classroom. Sometimes we don’t even know we have it until we’re tested — until we absolutely have no choice.
Courage can’t be measured — but it can be built. And the only prerequisite for that is a commitment to live a life not limited by fear of judgment or ridicule or failure. A commitment not to banish fear altogether, but to learn to live alongside it.
Courage is deeply personal. Yes, it can involve big, bold acts that make the world take notice. But often it’s just about the bravery of people down in the emotional trenches, quietly dealing with their own trauma — or just the ordinary stress of life.
- Publishing your first blog post.
- Speaking up for someone who’s being bullied.
- Telling your parents you’re transgender.
- Beginning to date again after you’ve been badly burned by love.
- Giving a presentation at work when public speaking terrifies you.
- Leaving a relationship that’s been making you miserable.
- Trying to live meaningfully with chronic illness or pain.
- Retiring when your whole identity is tied up in your work.
Courage means different things to each of us. But if you’re looking for the thread that binds it comes down to a few simple things.
Here’s my take on it.
4 Things Truly Courageous People Have in Common
1. Wherever they are, they’re there.
“Never bend your head. Always hold it high. Look the world straight in the eye.”― Helen Keller
Courageous people have the same fears and worries as everyone else. They understand their past has helped inform who they are and that the future will toss up its share of difficulty and pain. But they don’t let the distractions of past and future prevent them from doing what they want, or have, to do, right here, right now. Instead, they bring themselves into the present and do most of their living there.
2. They can lose sight of the shore.
“Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.”― Amelia Earhart
Uncertainty is arguably the no. 1 cause of anxiety. When we don’t know what’s happening, or we feel out of control, anxiety flares.
Courageous people don’t need to be in control. They don’t need the ground to be solid under their feet. They don’t need certainty or to know the outcome of anything before they act.
Novelist William Faulkner said “you cannot swim for new horizons until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” Courageous people are able to lose sight of the shore — of their safety net — in pursuit of their dreams. They know that when you are able to relinquish control, there are no limits: You come fully alive.
3. They don’t get trapped by “Group Think”.
“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.” — Coco Chanel
Group think occurs within a group of people when the desire to conform or keep the peace leads to a poor — or dysfunctional — decision.
Most of us have fallen into the group think trap at some point in our lives: We’ve made our decisions based on popular opinion or because we don’t want to rock the boat. That’s normal human behaviour. But it’s not okay if — when we reflect on it — we have an uneasy feeling that we did the wrong thing, that we allowed ourselves to be swayed away from what we REALLY believed. And it’s especially not okay if it hurts someone who didn’t deserve it.
Courageous people don’t look the other way. They don’t stay quiet when something needs to be said. They don’t bow to the popular choice (or that of a dominant leader) when they have a different opinion. They make a stand for themselves, what they believe in and/or those who are struggling.
4. They let the world see who they truly are.
“He who is brave is free”― Seneca
Courageous people don’t hide behind masks — physical or emotional. They are not afraid to be vulnerable, to let the guard down with people they trust and to risk the taunts of people they don’t. They don’t put their dreams on ice because they’re afraid of being challenged or laughed at. They overcome their fears to be who they need to be.
A transgender client of mine took years to get to this place. He grappled with his identity, discomfort with his body, telling his people, hormone treatment, surgery, depression, discomfort and a lot of fear, to become a man. Life has not suddenly become easier for him. There are still some tough days. But he faces it authentically, with courage. Everyone knows who he truly is now. More importantly, so does he.