The concept of courage must have been hard-wired into my brain as a kid, because when I think of courage, swords and shields come to mind.
I’ve been around some pretty courageous people. None of them owned a sword or a shield.
Then, I reflect on the individuals who've confronted hostility, adversity, even threats of violence as they stand firm in their beliefs. These heroes names we all know, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King Jr., and Malala Yousafzai, just to name a few. But even these are not the courageous individuals I see on a daily basis.
I see you.
We all find ourselves in circumstances that call on acts of courage every day. Sometimes, just showing up or speaking out in an intense situation asks on us to dig through all of the muck and garbage clouding our brains so that we can lead with courage.
I’ve been thinking lately about what it really means to be courageous. If it means carrying a sword or squaring off face-to-face with someone who’s threatening bodily harm, then I can honestly say that I haven’t had to show much courage in my life.
But, that’s not the whole story. Courage appears when we show up, fully owning our identities and values and acting in full alignment with those, no matter who or what rises up against us.
Owning your truth is the true act of courage.
When I think of it this way, I can start to see tiny acts of courage showing up in my life and the lives of people around me every day.
One of my biggest acts of courage was when I left a toxic work environment because I was being asked to practice medicine out of alignment with my values.
I also knew that leaving meant uncertainty about the next steps and loss of income.
The courage wasn’t just in leaving. It was in leaving knowing that I would have to sacrifice things that felt safe.
That’s where courage lives. On the boundary of safety and uncertainty. It’s the territory that you venture into even if it means putting yourself at risk. And yet, you still step forward.
In my mind, courage is a football coach sitting on my shoulder giving me the “game of your life” pep talk when I’m confronted by a choice that's asking me to lean into fear.
How are you showing courage in your daily life? When a situation asks you to step into doubt, loss and discomfort, then it’s courage that carries you through to the other side.
Is this the right thing? What if I get hurt? What if I’m wrong? Doubt tries its best to force you into submission. It wants you to back down and maintain the status quo.
Doubt thrives in uncertainty.
However, your doubt can serve you. It can tell you to pause and give you a moment to plan your best course forward.
But, it can also keep you suspended in indecision.
Courage will swoop in, thank doubt for its service and ask it to step aside.
See doubt as a message and invitation to reflect on your next steps. Don’t let doubt run the show.
We’re kind of like frogs swimming in water that’s slowly heating to boiling point. We’ll remain in seemingly unbearable situations, even if it kills us, because change and the unknown seem so scary.
You know that you’re working too many hours, and still taking work home in the evenings. On top of that, your clinic is trying a new “better” EHR, again, and you’re being asked to decrease your patient visit times to squeeze in just a couple more.
These changes haven’t happened all at once, but have slowly been layered, one on top another.
Each time, you tell yourself, “This is it. One more things, and I’m outta here.” Yet, here you are.
Why? Because to change might mean loss of a job or income. It might mean a loss of security. If you point out your concerns and get labeled as a “complainer", your position may be at risk.” It might simply mean loss of the status quo because “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t know.”
See. Slowly boiling frogs.
Courage allows you to push past this mental block to accept that you can do hard things. You can accept loss in your life if it leads you to a better place. Sometimes, the things you lose were only serving to hold you back and keeping you from living with more joy, meaning and purpose.
Courage allows you to say yes to living a life that reflects your values and identity even if the road there asks you to let go of some things that “felt” safe.
A temporary feeling of safety may just be a slowly boiling frog heading to inevitable doom.
Courage mostly feels hard. If it was easy, then it wouldn’t be that remarkable when someone showed it.
So just accept it, sometimes, you’re going to have to step intentionally into the hardness to live according to your identity and values.
Leaving a secure position might mean a temporary loss of income. Who do you need to talk to and plan with to adjust to leaner living? Maybe you’ll have to revamp your budget and start cutting out some extras.
Remember, everything is temporary.
Discomfort can also come from within. You’ll probably experience flashes of fear, sadness, anxiety and even confusion as you hold steady to what you believe in.
You might also find yourself in conflict with others as you step out in courage. Your courage may scare them and they might react out of their own discomfort. Others may simply disagree with your choices and push back to get you to back down.
When you tell administration that the physicians are being asked to see too many patients, I can almost guarantee, that they’ll push back and expect you to accept their policy. Courage will stand right behind you whispering, “Tell them that we've had our limit and are unwilling to compromise.”
Courage is not the easy road. And remember, sometimes, the courageous choice is the one that asks you to wait before acting to give yourself a change to make the best decision.
Either way, look for the small ways that courage shows up every day in your life and realize that you can handle doubt, survive loss and sit with discomfort.