“Courage is the ladder on which all the other virtues mount.” — Clare Boothe Luce

Expectations for women have fluctuated throughout history. The 20th century gave rise to social mores that stressed endurance and discipline, and the American women of this era displayed social graces, dignified style and fierce determination (as well as a tactical shrewdness in the bedroom called “lionesque courage”). Stay-at-home wives and mothers, they became the quintessential “congenial hostesses”—they listened attentively, directed their destinies (behind the scenes) and influenced their husbands’ advancement. “‘Gaiety, like honesty, is a kind of social courage. It is not easy to be unfailingly charming, lively, and original. It requires energy and generosity always to make the effort to be on one’s best form.’ And something deeper, a deeper virtue: Courage, the courage to be who you are in spite of the cost.… ‘The great question now and forever is, ‘What do you stand for? What kind of price are you willing to pay to stand there?’”[i] Sometimes these “grand dames” hid self-doubt and insecurity by faking optimism and over-dramatizing their roles, but they always projected self-confidence and allure.

Self-doubt continues to be a major obstacle for many women. Like all of us, the grand dames of the 20th century certainly had their moments of self-doubt, but they knew how to play the game, and they possessed sufficient courage to succeed. When it comes to defeating self-doubt, the crucial manifestation of your courage is your ability to

Establish higher standards.

Failing to challenge ourselves to meet high standards keeps us stuck in a place of unrealized potential. In other words, we all have unrealized potential, and if we do not establish personal standards for ourselves, we simply cannot break away from the self-doubt that undermines our efforts to manifest that potential.

[i] Brenner, Marie, Great Dames: What I Learned from Older Women (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2000), 9.

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