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3 Things I’ve Learned About Courage

3 things I've learned about courage _ Red Cape Revolution(1)
  • “I want the courage to speak up more when I disagree or have a better idea.”
  • “I need to be brave and leave what’s become a bad workplace–but I need the guts to figure out what good looks like.”
  • “It takes courage to ask for help, especially when I’ve always been the one helping others. But I need the help now.

The voices of my clients and readers are loud and clear. Behind every question about managing through our complex world of work, the one thing we all long for is a little more courage.

Well, I don’t come to this conversation today as an expert. I don’t have all the answers.

I come as a fellow seeker. I’m someone looking for more courage.

You, too?

Let’s compare notes. I’ll go first.

(But promise me you’ll tell me your stories, too–you can just email me privately here.)

3 Things I’ve Learned About Courage

1. Having Courage Doesn’t Mean Having No Fear

I’m realizing I have a deep, unshakable fear of  . . .well, fear.

Maybe this is natural. Only human.

But I really hate it when I get afraid.

what I know about courage and fear

I’ll never forget when I was invited to be part of a small group of leaders in my new community–an impressive array of smart professionals from corporate, government, and private ventures.

And while I’d never been shy joining new groups, for some reason, I let fear get the best of me as I thought about joining this one.

What if they don’t like me? What if no one understands what I do (and heck, it’s not always easy to explain). What if I’m not as smart or as accomplished as I think I am in comparison to them? What if, what if, what if??

In hindsight, I didn’t handle the fear well. I stayed more reserved than I really want to be and probably tried to be too smarty pants in a room where my pants didn’t matter.

So I didn’t get off to a good start, and I still kinda regret it.

But the fear brought me courage. Helping me continue to show up. Open my mouth.

Make new friends.

I learned that applying courage doesn’t mean I’ll never be afraid (darn it). Fear and courage are complementary partners, not opposites.

2. Courage Demands Discomfort

I’ve often said that “discomfort is where the growth is.” And if you’ve read this far, I’m pretty certain you’re someone who wants growth in your work and life.

But at what cost? Feeling lost? Out of control? Looking dumb? Not being the smartest person in the room?

It’s the discomfort that gets in our way.

courage demands discomfort

During a retreat I attended, we were led through an outdoors activity where 12 of us stood on a large teeter-tottering platform. The objective was to balance the thing collectively.

After a few unbalanced attempts, we figured out that none of us should move, except one person in the middle.

But it’s unnatural not to move when you’re feeling unstable.

We keep adjusting for a better position, when in reality, we may just need to work through the instability.

To be uncomfortable.

Yes, courage demands discomfort rather than relief. 

And so far, the only thing I’ve found that decreases discomfort–and increases your courage–is practice.

(Here are three ways you can practice right now.)

3. Courage Takes Time

In my fantasies, I’m bold, creative, experimental.

Fearless. Tireless.

In reality, I only have so much energy. So much time in the day.

And experimental? I’m sorry—that hot new idea will need to wait until the laundry’s done.

courage means waiting

We can’t expect to have all the courage we want instantly.

Like any good habit we’re developing to be better leaders and even better people, it’ll take time.

Little bits, every day.

Small steps, stretches, and experiments.

I’m optimistic that all of these will continue to help me grow the courage muscles I want. Hopefully, they’ll do the same for you.

And how ABOUT you? What have you learned about courage? Email me privately here and tell me your story.

Stay tuned —the journey’s just getting good.

Read this next:

Change Your Company’s Culture: How to Avoid Giving In (Or Giving Up)

Tough Conversations at Work: Scripts for When It’s Time for Change