Courage is one of my favorite topics. It’s expressions are unique, and also universal. My general understanding of courage is that it means “Acting in the presence of fear.” Considered by some, to be the most important virtue, courage is the super power we call on to do difficult things.
I have been fascinated with the role of courage (and other virtues) in the work environment. When I earned a psychology degree I was intrigued by the field of industrial psychology, so much so that I also studied business and marveled at how the two overlapped. I have been curious about the way our hearts and minds either collaborate, or fight against one another.
In my career, I have been amazed at the dance between the heart (literally the Latin root of the word courage) and the mind. What do fear and courage look like in the work place? How does our ability to tackle challenging situations impact the overall health of the business we are in? Can we speak up when we have a stunning idea, or a scathing objection? If so what is the impact? And if we fail to do so, what is that impact?
Each time I shifted career trajectories I looked around me, for examples of courage and what that looked like in a particular work environment. This was evident when I worked as a Pediatric ICU nurse. I think courage was a requirement of the job, in order to be able to clock in at the beginning of a shift so it was easy to find.
But less obvious, were examples of courage in some of my corporate roles. Several years ago, I was struggling in a job that provided me little in the way of coaching or guidance, but much, in the way of pressure, expectation and stress. I was frustrated because I couldn’t seem to find someone doing it well (my first go to strategy, since I know if someone else can do it, so can I.). Since I couldn’t model a behavior I looked to my supervisor for inspiration and coaching.
While I fully understand and appreciate the intention of the message, I was shocked when that supervisor referred to the performance of a new, young, not-yet-proven effective colleague who had only been on our team a few months, as the epitome of courage.
“Lisa, you should lose the fear. Talk to ____” he told me. “You know, she won a beauty pageant. She had to walk out on a stage in her bathing suit…now THAT takes courage!”
Aside from wanting to walk out the door leaving my key, building badge and laptop right there in my cubicle and never look back, my then personality was unable to be in integrity with that instinct. So instead I replied something like “Yes, I can see the courage there.”
What I should have said was: “So does burying my daughter.” And, THEN left.
Here’s to acting in the presence of fear in big and in little ways. Look to others who exhibit courage in whatever form, to inspire yourself to use this super power more often. Then look to yourself to do the things you most fear, but that are in highest alignment with who you are and watch it get easier and more liberating with practice.