How I learned to find courage and face seemingly impossible challenges
What is courage?
It’s worth knowing what sort of courage we’re aiming for here. The Collins Dictionary defines courage as, “the quality shown by someone who decides to do something difficult or dangerous, even though they may be afraid.” A couple of aspects in this definition are particularly comforting.
Courage can involve doing “something difficult or dangerous.” If a next move was easy, we wouldn’t require courage. We could feel fine. The difficulty is what makes this an achievement. Some challenges can be dangerous or simply risky. There’s more than physical danger in the world. We perceive great social risk in presenting a speech. There’s emotional risk in getting close to people. Financial risks happen when starting a new business or investment. We face difficult or risky choices all the time. Sometimes we avoid these choices out of fear. But in moments of courage, we can face these choices.
The second crucial part of courage is that we, “may be afraid.” It’s ok to feel scared. Difficult things can be scary. This is a reality for small and great tasks alike. I have felt equally terrified when abseiling down a cliff or trying some challenging math. My emotions are quite similar whether I’m going in for surgery or just a dental checkup. Of course, we may also feel afraid of the big serious life events. Even something new can be terrifyingly unfamiliar. Choosing to become pregnant, that was one of the biggest decisions of my life. Things can make us nervous regardless of whether they are positive or negative.
I’ll be honest. There were times in my life when I didn’t have courage. I didn’t face the difficult steps that scared me. I chose flight over fight. My mind translated “difficult” as “impossible.” A great lesson emerged from those moments of fearfully fleeing.
I realised more could be gained when facing my fears. Actually, sometimes I missed out because I avoided something difficult. Then I realised, beyond the difficulty and fear, I could gain significant benefits from being courageous.
It’s ok when we learn that lesson through experience. We may need to realise the impact of not having courage, to then move ourselves towards a more courageous way of being.
What doesn’t kill you makes for a good story
I find courage in knowing I will somehow survive whatever happens. I don’t always feel strong during a difficult experience. I may feel exhausted or worried. But what doesn’t kill me often makes for a good story.
This approach normally seems more suitable later into a sticky situation. During an initial shock, I just want to react. That shock could last for minutes or weeks. Then once I’m settled into the new chaos, I might feel ready for some perspective. My thought could be, “I still feel scared but I will look back on this in awe one day.”
Sometimes all you can do is laugh
Laughing at a situation has, at times, seemed better than crying. It lets out some of that fear, to feel a bit more ready to face difficulties. Self-deprecating humour lets me mock life’s craziness. Maybe that’s a coping mechanism that only emerges on occasions. But when my mind leans towards humour, it feels good.
We can laugh when still taking things seriously. Mocking something is different to trivialising it. My attitude in such a situation becomes, “This is so big, so serious, it’s rather ridiculous.” Or it could sound like this, “How on earth did we get into this dilemma!” There’s courage in tackling the fear with a new alternative emotion.
One step at a time
We all face a difficulty that seems too big. It could be many steps on a long journey. There could be a huge pile of papers or many hours of work on a project. We may feel buried in lots of details. Whenever I become overwhelmed by the volume of something, I take it a step at a time. I can move forward when just feeling scared of one little section, instead of fearing the whole big picture.
My most recent big difficult task involved moving into a house. We both felt scared of the many things to get done. I found my courage by facing one chore at a time. There was an endless list of tasks. We needed to move possessions out of the old place and into the new place. Maintenance was required for the yard and internal rooms. We needed to install extra facilities such as internet. The easy reaction would involve becoming overwhelmed and then avoiding everything. Then nothing would get done. But did we have to achieve every milestone all at once? No. We slowly faced each individual item on the checklist. We overcame the fear of one small task, then the next small scary task. Then after a while, the list was smaller and less overwhelming.
The only way to go is forward
I see two kinds of challenges. There are situations we can avoid or get out of. Then we’re required to experience other situations whether we want to or not.
When the only way to move is forward, that forces me to push past the fear. Let’s use pregnancy as an example again. I had a choice about whether to become pregnant or not. But within my personal beliefs, once I had became pregnant, I was going to become a parent regardless of my emotions. It was going to happen. Sure, I could have avoided preparation to avoid that scared feeling. But reality would catch up with me eventually. It was now or later, not now or never. I started moving beyond the emotion when realising fear wouldn’t make this go away.
Staying or quitting for the right reasons
Plenty of life events give us an out. I like to check whether I want to leave because I’m scared, or because an environment really isn’t right for me. That discovery can take time.
Staying can be worth the pain for the right reasons. I once stayed in a community role that didn’t make me happy. Why did I stay? I wanted to complete the session. It wasn’t easy. I could have left early. But there was an end in sight.
Utilitarian motives could be stronger reasons to continue exhausting tasks. We can be courageous when serving others. In efforts that will truly benefit other people, the sacrifice can be worth it. Although don’t lose yourself to everyone else. Put your life mask on first. You can feel scared. But you should be surviving and well enough to actually be helpful. If we’re too worn out, we don’t have the energy to serve the greater good. So gain an energetic courage and do what you can.
Every situation requires fresh ways to find courage
Let’s discover new ways to be courageous during each new adventure. Humour could ease the pain in some circumstances. When other difficulties are big collections of small challenges, we can break down those chunks so the fear also seems smaller. If there’s a good moral reason to persevere through a situation, courage can get you through.