- The ability to do something that frightens you
- Strength in the face of pain or grief
Courage has been much on my mind lately. Courage to make necessary changes. Courage to step into the unknown. Courage to follow that path less traveled to pursue a dream. Courage to live our best and only life.
I’m reading “Hotel Honolulu” by one of my favourite writers, Paul Theroux. A story of a writer whose life implodes and he retreats to Hawaii, broke, unable to write and ends up managing a seedy Waikiki hotel. Maybe not one of his most literary efforts, but the interwoven stories of the characters follows a thread of lives well-lived, lives wasted, unexamined lives and the few that decided they didn’t give a f*uck and lived unconventional lives on their own terms, for better or worse. One of characters, Benno Nevermann, started out with zero advantages and made his fortune by inventing a weather-proof window frame. After selling the company, he spends his time traveling the world, searching for people from his past to discover what had become of them. This is the paragraph that I keep going back to:
“Old girlfriends, old enemies, old bosses, competitors from the past – they necessitated his groping in the wonderful tunnel of time, searching for clues. Why had so few people succeeded? Why had so many failed? But for most of them nothing at all had happened except that time had passed and they had grown older; he found them living in the same town, on the same street, in the same house.”
Nothing at all had happened except time had passed and they had grown older. That sounds like the worst indictment for a wasted life I can imagine. But taking a diversion, or making a permanent re-route in life takes courage, a lot of courage. Staying with the known and familiar is easier, it might have it’s own price, but it requires little effort.
For those of us blessed, or burdened, with a gypsy soul, it’s always going to be about the unknown, the unfamiliar, the uneasy. Are we just born courageous, is it an inborn trait? Maybe, but it can also be learned by practicing courageous behavior until small (or maybe large) successes help us develop the self-confidence to know we can step into the unknown and overcome obstacles. By practicing courageous acts we can grow into fearlessness.
“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” C. S. Lewis
How can we practice being courageous?
- Choose to act even in the face of our fears.
- Follow your heart and intuition. Everything else is secondary (thanks Steve Jobs, his Stanford Commencement address is something I come back to often).
- Persevere when times get tough, be braver five minutes longer. Transitions are hard, but stick with them and they become our new reality.
- Knowing that you are standing up for what is right will give you strength.
- Let go of the familiar and expand your horizons. Life is only as large as our courage to experience it.
- And when things go wrong, when you are lonely and sad (as will inevitably happen) face it with dignity and the knowledge that all things pass. The ability to sit with the tough times and know you are already on your way to moving through them, will give you courage to keeping moving forward.
(original back cover of the final Whole Earth catalogue)
I love it when serendipitous things happen. As I was finishing up this post I was thinking, well damn, what am I going to use for music? Then Stand Up for Something by the feisty and supremely talented Andra Day popped on the NPR Tiny Desk rotation I was listening to! Serendipity indeed.