What is courage?

Ask almost anyone who has been laid off, lost a job, or even decided to start something new of their own volition, and you’ll hear one word crop up again and again.


We fear change. We fear failure. We fear the unknown.

Fear can be paralyzing, leaving us rooted in one place and missing out on the richness of a life well lived. It can also, I’ve found in my own life and in the lives of clients, make us really mad at ourselves!

“Why can’t I just take a leap?” we ask in frustration. “What’s wrong with me? Why am I so afraid, so stuck?”

As a career coach, I know the importance of allowing space for clients to feel and experience their fears. Once that whole mess is out in the open, I love the breakthrough moments when people recognize how courageous they truly are.

In his book, Courage & Calling, writer Gordon T. Smith breaks down the ingredients of true courage. Here they are, food for thought for those of you wrestling with fears and beating yourself up over them:

  • WISDOM: Wisdom is not the ability to conjure grand, earth-shattering plans, but rather the determination to do what’s necessary based on prudent decision-making.
  • MORAL INTEGRITY: We choose to live our lives and pursue work that is in line with our values, a choice that Smith calls “vocational integrity.” This does NOT mean being judgmental of those whose values are different than ours.
  • GRATITUDE: The suspicion that others have it better than you stems from fear. Having the ability to be thankful for the good in your life, therefore, would be an important factor in courage, according to Smith.
  • HUMILITY: It takes bravery to truly be humble. It calls us to be authentic, free of pretense. And when we are truly ourselves, there’s no longer the temptation to envy others or come up short when we compare our accomplishments to theirs.
  • PATIENCE: This is the one that gives me the most trouble. I find it terribly difficult to relinquish control and trust that things will come together as they should. And I know when I’m feeling all of that, it’s because I’m afraid. Cultivating patience means cultivating courage.

Next time you feel afraid of making a decision, of the uncertainty of where you are, of choosing the “wrong” career path, ask yourself how you can (and in many cases, already do) approach your situation with wisdom, moral integrity, gratitude, humility and patience.

You may be surprised to find how courageous — in the truest, deepest sense of the word —you actually are.

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