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Courage: Do You Want It?

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I recently asked my son, “What does the word courage mean?”  He responded, “That means you’re brave!”

Newborn babies are afraid of only two things:  falling and loud noises.  As a child grows, he might become afraid of other things, like imaginary monsters or being separated from his mother.  Throughout our lives, each of goes through unique experiences that can affect our level of courage.

Here’s an example from my life.  In the 7th grade, I left a small private school and entered public school for the first time. Now granted, I stood out quite a bit in my private-school khaki pants and collared shirts, but I became an immediate target for bullies.  The only friends that I had were other social outcasts.

Because of the bullying, I developed a brand new fear in the 7th grade:  the fear of rejection.  I wanted to be accepted by the people that taunted me, but I wasn’t – so I became acutely aware of how other people perceived me.  That fear has continued to debilitate me for many years.  But the ironic part is this: my perception of what people think about me is oftentimes way off base.  Why should I continue to let this fear hold me back?

No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.
– Eleanor Roosevelt

The Prescription for the Disease of Fear
Wouldn’t we all like a big dose of courage to overcome our fears?  I know I would!  Well, you are in luck.  I recently found the perfect prescription for the disease of fear:  ACTION.  In the words of Nike, “Just Do It!”  The quickest way to overcome any type of fear is to face it head on – immediately, and without delay.  Don’t give yourself too much time to think through all of the pros and cons; that will just psych you out.

It seems counter-intuitive:  “If I could do it that easily, then I wouldn’t be afraid!”  But the key is to short-circuit your fear mechanisms, before they have time to shift into gear.  Believe me, you will feel an incredible rush after you take action.  You will realize you were much more powerful than you ever thought.

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
– Eleanor Roosevelt

Who Is in Control of Your Courage Level?
Let’s think about two words for a moment, and I’ll give you my definition for each:

+  “En”courage   – the attempt to build up one’s level of courage
–  “Dis” courage  – the attempt to tear down one’s level of courage

Words have incredible power.  When someone you love and respect “en”courages you, it can have the effect of pouring gasoline on fire.  “What, you really believe that I’m an awesome person, with incredible talent?!”  On the other hand, when you hear words of “dis” couragement, it can be totally deflating.  “My boss must be right… I must be worthless.”

Let’s be completely honest.  Some people are LUCKY.  Sociologists might call it “privilege”.  That “privilege” can take the form of money or status.  Or it might come in the form of an “en” couraging environment.  Maybe your immediate environment right now is full of people who are experts at “en” couragement.  The fact of the matter is that you will have far less difficulty in overcoming your fear in that type of environment!

But what if you’re in an awful situation where people are constantly criticizing and “dis” couraging you?  Does that mean that you are doomed to a life without courage?  No!  Ultimately, it is up to you to decide how much courage you will have.  Here are some tips to increase your courage, and overcome your fears:

(1)  You might need to remove yourself from your environment.  Why hang out with friends who are intent on “dis” couraging you?

(2)  If you can’t remove yourself from the “dis” couraging environment (e.g. your parents, or a spouse), make up your mind that you will not allow their “dis” couraging words to lower your level of courage.

(3)  Learn to become an “en” courager.  Go out of your way to praise other people.

(4)  “En” courage yourself!  You must become your own cheerleader, especially if the people closest to you are “dis” couragers.  By learning to “en” courage yourself, you’ll also become better at “en” couraging others.


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