Courage is a funny concept. According to the Internet (or black magic, as I like to call it), courage is the ability to do something that frightens you. So, inherently, courage implies that life is scary, because if it wasn’t, there wouldn’t be a requirement to define the concept of courage, let alone need it.
You see, life is full of dualities and contradictions, and let me say this frankly: you aren’t alone.
Everyone, whether they read this or not, is dealing with something so frightening, that all they can do is either cower or call on their courage. And often, they do both. It could be quitting a job. It could be moving across the country. It could be getting out of a toxic relationship. It could be staying in one to try and make it less toxic. All these things require immense courage to take action, and for the person dealing with their specific “thing," it’s the scariest situation imaginable.
But don’t be scared. Remember, we’re in this together.
When you break it down, what scares you is the finality of a decision or action. But going deeper, what’s frightening is the change to your identity. What will people think of me? you ask yourself. I’ll be considered a failure, you think in your head.
For better or for worse, whatever the thing is that frightens you, the thing that keeps you up at night and keeps you in bed until late in the morning, is your identity. And it might not be a physical thing like a fast car or a title like Mr. Manager, but rather a feeling that follows you around from one life choice to the next.
Let’s use me as a guinea pig, because, well, it’s my article and I’m happy to oblige. I identify with business and entrepreneurship. While I’m actively working on it, I place a lot of my success or failure on the outcome of my business and my bank account. I tell people I’m a business owner (sometimes embarrassingly and sometimes unabashedly). My Linkedin says I’m a business owner. According to the outside world, I’m a business owner. So what the hell would happen if my business failed, or if I quit?
To me, that’s scary. That’s my cause of inaction. It’s the reason I’ll blindly try to make a business work, even though everything may be telling me to move on. Conversely, growing a business is hard, and I’m also afraid that I’ll quit too early. So, to me, I need the courage of conviction, the courage to move on, and the courage to decide between the two.
But ultimately, I’m afraid of being labeled a failure. I don’t want to be identified as one.
So in a sense, that fear you feel, that thing you need courage for, isn’t a thing at all, it’s the feeling of fear itself. The scary unknown. It’s the fear that you’re giving up your identity - giving up life as you know it - and the fear that people will judge you for it. But fret not, because no matter what it is, whether it be a life-changing event or a minuscule change of course, it isn’t who you are.
Rather, it’s just a situation you find yourself in, and it’s your choice as to whether you want to change it, or keep it.
Courage is based on action or inaction. When we feel fear, it's normally because we’re thinking of changing our lives, or a change has befallen us, and now it's up to us to cope with it. So, when we call on our courage, it’s either to accept our current situation or to change it.
So in effect, what courage is is the confidence to make a choice or decision, and then stick with it. It’s accepting the ramifications of your action or inaction. It’s looking fear in the face and saying no, I won’t be guided by you but instead by the life I want to live. And there’s the rub: we need courage to actively step outside of our comfort zone and move in the direction of our true goals and desires.
Because in reality, that identity you harbor in your mind, or that status you’re afraid to lose, may not be the one you truly want. Instead, it’s the identity you’ve become comfortable with. Be honest with yourself as to where you want your life to go, and if your life isn’t headed toward the identity you actually want, you need the courage to make a change.
Flip a coin. No seriously, flip it. Heads you do it, tails you don’t. Chances are you’ll know what you really want before you even flip. And the fear of making the choice? Well, that’s the flip itself. But, just like how we secretly know what way we want the coin to land, so too do we secretly know what decision we want to make.
Do some soul searching - you’ll find what you need. And then make the choice. Decide, and then stick with it, accepting whatever comes.
Now, if changing your life or accepting the one you have is as easy as a coin flip, we wouldn’t need courage. Obviously. But it’s not. Life altering decisions are immensely hard to grapple with, and it’s our fault. Well, humanities, at least.
We, as humans, are in a constant battle with our physiology. We evolved and bred ourselves to reduce risk, maintain homeostasis, and ensure the longevity of our lives and our personal gene pool. So naturally, even in this 21st-century world, we’re inclined to make decisions that keep the status quo. Why move across the country? I already know that there are no saber-tooth cats where I am now.
Making a life-altering decision has a higher probability of affecting your homeostasis than not making one. Humans are taught to reject the unknown and accept the known, because the known is safer. But in all honesty, what a shitty way to live life.
We need to combat our inner demons passed down to us from almost 200,000 years of evolution. We don’t need them anymore. Rarely is a decision today a life or death matter. Rather, it’s a choice to either step outside of your comfort zone or live life meekly inside the bubble you've always known. We need the courage of personal conviction. We need to know that sometimes it’s not just outer pressure that causes fear of a decision, but inner pressure too. Inner pressure that may not be applicable in today’s world.
But ultimately, it’s your choice and no one else's. It’s your life and no one else’s. And ultimately, it’s your courage. As far as I know, it’s your only life to live, shouldn’t you do what makes you happiest?