Courage is simply doing whatever is needed in pursuit of the vision.Peter Senge, The Fifth Discipline
A friend of mine tells the story of how he was once asked, as part of a major job interview, to provide an example of courage. He told the interviewers about the time that he and his wife had just brought home their brand new twins from the hospital to the custom house they had only recently finished building in a city where they had a vast support network of family and friends. Earlier that day, he’d gotten a call from work telling him that the chance to advance his career, the opportunity he’d worked and waited for, was finally available. In another city. He would only be offered this position once, they said, and it needed to be filled immediately. He describes how he made his wife a cup of tea, sat her down, and then asked what she’d think about making the move. The wife, who is one of the most generous and loving people you’ll ever meet, took a breath and said yes. Hearing the story, his panel readily agreed that his wife was an exemplar of true courage. My friend was taken aback. He’d always thought he was the courageous one for asking her in the first place!
One reason that I love this story is the way in which it represents two different, but parallel, types of courage. There’s the courage to ask and the courage to willingly accept uncertainty.
I’ve been thinking a lot about courage lately, what it means to me, personally, and the examples of it that are promulgated in our society. As I often tell people who seek my advice, if you don’t ask, the answer is always no. Asking, itself, is courage. In order to pose a question, you must be open to all possible answers, even those you do not want. Many times I have been surprised by an outcome I thought was a foregone conclusion.
Willingly embracing uncertainty is another form of courage. As human beings, we survive by convincing ourselves that we have control over others and our environment. Spoiler alert: We don’t. When that veil of control is pierced, it can send us spiraling.
In talk therapy, one of the things I’ve been exploring is my vision for myself. Over the years, I’ve spent a lot of time conforming myself to the visions of others, all the while convinced that theirs was my vision for myself. I’m coming to realize that I can articulate the visions, purposes, and missions of others quite eloquently, but I’m tongue-tied when it comes to my own. My vision for myself comes out as a fairly authentic reproduction of the most dominant vision I’m observing in my life. On more than one occasion, I’ve been told that I am a great ambassador for the organizations to which I belong because I can articulate their aims, objectives, and ethos with clarity and passion. However, I can’t seem to do that for myself.
For now, I’m looking at courage the way Senge describes it. I’m doing whatever is necessary in pursuit of being a person who finds joy and purpose in being alive. Although scary, it is, I believe, courageous.