When most people pause long enough to think about courage, their mind goes to physical acts of bravery. They may think of heroic soldiers in combat or cancer patients undergoing chemo. They may think of a tightrope walker or a circus acrobat. Or they may think of a famous person in history: Lawrence of Arabia on camelback in the desert, perhaps, or Rosa Parks on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama.
But courage takes many other forms. The presence or absence of courage is often as close as our lips and feet: it is our next word, our next step. It plays an important role in the success or failure in any endeavor, professional or personal. It can determine the health and vitality of our careers, our businesses, even our families.
In addition to raw physical bravery, courage can show up in social, intellectual, and emotional ways. People can muster courage to make the right decision, or not; they can take the appropriate course of action, or not; and they can think the trusting thought rather than the cynical thought, or not.
People can find the courage to speak up, to stand up, and to show up in big and noble ways, or not. They can have the courage to turn away from so-called humor masquerading as racism or sexism, or not.
They can seize the courage to volunteer when no one else is volunteering, to ask a question on everybody's mind that nobody else is asking, to challenge the status quo and the assumptions everyone else is using—or not.
Sometimes, courage is simply a matter of perseverance. Mary Ann Radmacher once observed that courage can be the refusal to abandon hope. "Courage doesn't always roar," she said. "Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day, saying: I will try again tomorrow."
Whenever I recall that quotation, I think of Michael Jordan, perhaps the best basketball player ever. He spoke candidly about his failures and his refusal to give up. "I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career," he said. "I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the winning shot and missed. I have failed over and over and over again in my life, and that is why I succeed."Read More