What’s your definition of courage and why is it vital to claim it for yourself? Are you curious about why only 11 percent of more than 750 women I researched for five years (out of twenty years) perceived themselves as courageous? Interviews with the courageous 11 percent made it clear that these women manifest their courage in specific ways. I call these the 12 feminine behaviors of courage:
- Affirming strength and determination,
- Confronting abuse,
- Conquering fear,
- Embracing faith,
- Hurdling obstacles/taking risks,
- Living convictions,
- Manifesting vision,
- Overcoming illness or loss,
- Reflecting self-esteem,
- Reinventing self,
- Revealing vulnerability and
- Speaking up.
Are you able to identity the steppingstones in your precious life with this 11 percent? What allows only a small percentage of women to actively claim their courage? Perhaps you believe courage is only synonymous with being a hero.
Most people believe firefighters and police officers are heroes. In the United States, they were called heroes after 9/11. However, ask these professionals if they think of themselves as heroes and they will say, “No.” Mary says, “I am trained to do my job. If you call 911, it’s a day from hell for you, not me.” Most people are not “heroes,” but we seem to associate only heroes with having courage. Certainly the hijacked group of 9/11 passengers who curtailed the loss of additional lives demonstrated heroic passenger boldness.
Everyday courage is not that amazing. We just pay tribute to these types of courageous actions more than we practice them. How might your life change if you discovered that some of your everyday behaviors at work and home demonstrate profound courage?
Do you cherish your work? If you could choose to do a job that you would love to do, what would your heart’s wish be? I have yet to meet a single person who does not wish to be happy at work, but job satisfaction is rarely the norm.
Are you disengaged at work? Developing courage and the skills that manifest courage at work will help anyone struggling with a lack of self-fulfillment.
Dorie knows about getting off target. In high school and college, she excelled in math and science. She entered college as an engineering major at the advice of guidance counselors and family members. She excelled scholastically and earned a doctorate in bioengineering. Despite never feeling any passion for her work, she was reluctant to change career paths, and in this state of unhappiness, she developed a severe eating disorder. She says, “My passion finally emerged while I was being treated for my eating disorder. It became clear that my mission was to help others overcome their eating disorders.” She turned down a six-figure salary and returned to college to earn her counseling degree.
It took years for her to find the courage to act from her heart – the place where self-acceptance lives – and express her true identity thus revealing her authenticity. Put another way, her courage was alive and well in her original Self. The word “authentic” is derived from Greek authentikos, which means “original.” Sadly, there’s no magical formula for originality.
Successful women recognize their innate courage and claim it as their own. Washington Post CEO Katherine Graham overcame intense reticence to publishing the Pentagon Papers in 1971, exposing government lies about the War in Vietnam. She refused to bow to intense political and financial pressures and played a crucial role in the democratic process that ended Nixon’s reign of corruption and deceit. The merit of Graham’s resolute spiritual courage was reflected in her refusal to play it safe, dodge discomfort or hedge her bets.
What is this energy that so few women consciously recognize? Webster defines courage as mental or moral strength, but a closer examination to the etymology of the word reveals that courage comes from the Old French word corage, meaning heart and spirit. So it has little to do with society’s label of physical, male-oriented bravado, much less fear. It’s something that originates within core of our being.
After seven years of teaching, Sarah’s health started to show signs of stress. She had stayed at her job way too long, waiting for the right moment to step up. Her husband sold real estate so he felt she needed to stay in her steady paying job so he could weather the economic cycles. Sarah’s heart wanted to join a woman who ran a successful business for learning disabilities. One day she said to me, “Well, Sandra, I need surgery. I am going to leave my job at the end of the school term in June even if I have to go to work for a grocery store. I just can’t do this anymore.”
Sarah had forgotten one critical point that confirms whether you have courage or not: “She who hesitates before each step spends her life on one leg.” Stepping up reveals our stepping-stones – the defining moments in our life – the times we displayed our courage. It took Sarah seven years to give herself permission to step up and claim her courage. Finally filled with regret, her body became her signpost.
Awareness of the untapped reservoir of courage comes with the opportunity to direct the energy of your own personal courage to produce dramatic, positive change. You can discover and chart this vital insight by this statement: There is a direct correlation between your “success quotient” and your “courage quotient.”
Are you willing to claim your courage?
Morale of the story: Become an observer to your definition of courage and the perspective you hold about why you are or aren’t courageous. Wherever your attention goes, your energy follows. Self-observation is required to alter your behavior. Altering your behavior allows you to give yourself permission to claim your courage.
“By fusion courage with their innate energy, all women can enhance their ability to act from their hearts.” — Sandra Ford Walston, COURAGE: The Heart and Spirit of Every Woman/Reclaiming the Forgotten Virtue
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