A Moment of Courage – Part I

| | General Leadership

True courage is not the absence of fear, but the willingness to proceed in spite of it.–Unknown

Leading can be simple. And it is not always easy. Sometimes just the thought of doing something as simple as raising your hand can make your heart race uncontrollably. It did for me back in school and at times it still does. What do we fear? After all, raising your hand is not usually a matter of life or death. Mostly I think we fear being embarrassed or even humiliated. What if I say the wrong thing? What if people laugh at me? What if my boss doesn’t like what I said? We fear losing our jobs. We fear being alienated from the group in some way. Perhaps the reason more people cite their fear of public speaking as stronger than their fear of death is because we actually have to live with what comes next.

We’ve all had those moments, which is probably why the fear can be so intense now. Some of us have had more of them than others. Yet it only takes one experience to embed the memory of how awful it feels deep into our souls. We need not feel bad about our fear though. Believe it or not there was a time in human history when being shunned from your group meant almost certain death. In today’s technology driven world we forget that we are social creatures who depend on each other for our survival. So perhaps there is more to this fear we think. It may even be coded into our DNA. Of one thing I am certain; it is real and it stops us.


The question is not “how can you eliminate the fear?” We can’t. The question is “what will it take for me to transcend my fear, to be willing to take the risk despite how scary it feels right now?” True, embarrassing moments, even bad things, might happen if we were to speak up, step up or stand up. Yet it is also true that the most amazing things could happen. We often think that the people who are willing to take that risk can take it because they have more confidence, they have more power or authority, they have less to lose, etc. Essentially we believe they must have something we do not. Hence they can and we cannot. I believe the only thing that separates the people who choose to lead from the people who do not is this: a reason that makes taking that risk far more compelling than their fear.

So what do you care about enough that could be more compelling than your fear?
What difference do you want to make that could transform that moment of fear into a moment of exhilaration? It is not the enormity of the risk that matters. It is the willingness to take a risk, even a small one, to step outside your comfort zone for the sake of something that really matters to you. We all have fear, but will we let fear have us? Will we let that feeling of fear prevent us from creating the community, the workplace, the life or even the world we want?

I call those moments when your commitment to something inspires you to transcend your fear a “moment of courage”. You’ve already had these moments in your life. Many of them were probably unexpected. You don’t have to plan for them. Simply be on the lookout for an opportunity to act from your commitments in spite of your fear. Just remember to breathe…


Enter A Comment

Jay   |   26 January 2009   |   Reply

Fear must be in the air this weekend. Inner Noodle will be tackling the emotions that bind us this week including of course fear. I love your post- take action regardless of fear. People should realize that fear of fear is worse than the fear itself and that it always dissipates once you punch through it with action.

Gwyn Teatro   |   25 January 2009   |   Reply

Great post. I think you are absolutely right.

Looking back, it is only at times when I have dared to take a risk that I have made a move forward.

Sometimes the journey has been bumpy but it seems at the end, I come out much the better for it.

It doesn’t make me braver necessarily but certainly makes me aware of who I have to look at if things are not what I’d like them to be.

Thanks for the reminder !

Henie   |   26 January 2009   |   Reply

So true what you write about fear and how we allow ourselves to be paralyzed by it. Every time we choose safety do we not reinforce fear?

My grandmother was fearless! She always said: If you don’t go out and face everything, how would you even know what you’re afraid of? (or something like that) 🙂

Great post Susan! Thanks for sharing!

Best Always,

Jerry Roberts   |   26 January 2009   |   Reply

I’ve trained thousands of people, given numerous speeches, delivered sermons, and been the master of ceremonies for hundreds of events — and after all that, I still get butterflies as I prepare to stand before a group.

Sometimes it’s only a few and sometimes it’s a squadron. I take it as a reminder that I need to do my best, that it’s important enough for me to be “in the moment.”

I love Ken Blanchard’s take on how he approaches this. He says, “I know what I know, and I’m glad that you’re here.”

I want to do well for the audience, to make them glad they came, so I prepare to do well. Preparation reduces fear, but doesn’t get rid of it entirely. As stated, the remaining nervousness is a positive.

All this said, fear can be debilitating, going far beyond the butterfly stage. I’ve seen people paralyzed by it, unable to perform.

If we trained workers in how to recognize what is real and what is not, and how to proceed accordingly, much of this would fall by the wayside.

Perhaps stress management should be expanded to include controlling fear.

Good job with this post, Susan.

Liara Covert   |   26 January 2009   |   Reply

Hope is more compelling than fear. As people evolve to recognize they have choices, and delibertely shift their mindset, there is not limit to what they can learn and accomplish.

semazza   |   29 January 2009   |   Reply

@GwynT Moving forward (vs. staying stuck with the status quo) can be a powerful motivator and reward. I posted an example of that on the Add Your Stories tab today. Your comment was what had me recognize the example as an Act of Leadership so thank you for that!

@Henie Great point that every time you choose safety you perhaps reinforce fear. You and your grandma are wise.

@Jay Looking forward to you post. Please place a link here when it’s up so others can find it from here. Thanks!

@Jerry I can relate to your squadron of butterflies. It is often in those situations that I am now awake to the similarity between the feelings of fear and the feelings of exhilaration. Including dealing with fear in Stress Mgmt education is a really good idea.

@Liara Thanks for introducing hope as an important context – it can truly be the source of limitless possibility.