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What a 9-year-old boy taught me about courage

Its never comfortable

Courage has always been an interesting character trait to me and over time I’ve decided that it’s not a trait, it’s a learnable skill.

In this article

I sometimes find it difficult to get inspired by confident, brave people; their memoirs, TED Talks and so forth.

They seem to have it all sorted and they appear naturally assertive and self-assured. Often I’m left feeling more frustration than inspiration. Yes, they’re inspiring and I desire their mastery of the world but I don’t find them empowering; because they don’t tell me how.

A conspicuous absence of how

To be honest, I find it unhelpful when business people chant simplistic notions of:

“just believe in yourself” (if it was that simple, I’d have that sorted years ago).

“just follow your passion” (what if your passion isn’t profitable, marketable, or even legal?)

“just be courageous and bold” (what does that really look like?)

“just never give up” (but what if it’s proven to be the wrong direction?)

"just unleash the power within" (I'm having trouble finding my car keys today)

"just manifest your destiny" (why haven't the billions of people in the developing world done that already too?)

They all leave me cold and ring the same bell – the warning bell.

We confuse courage with confidence

Courage is often portrayed as a person feeling absolutely certain about doing a particular thing.

  • But that’s not courage — that’s confidence.
  • Courage is not about confidence. It’s not the absence of fear, it’s resistance to fear and a decision to do it anyway.

Surely it's a terrible thing to misrepresent what's true to a hurting world.

The main difference between courage and confidence is confidence feels good; courage always feels uncomfortable. Drew Browne

Speaking your truth to power

One of the most courageous people I’ve met was a 9-year-old boy, I’ll call him David (not his real name). A long time ago in a career far, far away, I was acting for the crown in a case of child abuse and David was my witness.

Before he took the witness stand to tell his version of events, we had the chance to chat privately together along with his foster parents. After reading through his written statement, I explained to him I already knew what had happened, but I needed him to help me tell how it happened.

Then I did something I still look back in disbelief about.

I gave him my court security pass to wear under his jumper, so when he was in the witness box, if he felt scared, he could hold onto it and he would know that I would know how he was feeling.

That afternoon, David stood up with courage and simply told the court what had happened and how it happened, all the while quietly clutching my official security pass. He felt the fear, decided he would not let it stop him and he bravely spoke about something terrible to a courtroom full of strangers and myself.

David was undoubtedly courageous in the way that most inspires me. He felt the emotion of fear, decided that he wouldn’t let it stop him, and despite the feeling, he did what he decided to do.

So where do you find the confidence to be courageous in business?

You don’t.

The most interesting thing about confidence in business and life is it usually always arrives late. Over time I’ve found I can’t wait until I feel an overwhelming sense of confidence about my business decisions. The market will change, the opportunity will move and the windows may close – all while I’m patiently waiting for my confidence to arrive.

When it comes to courage and confidence in business (and in dating too), courage arrives like the overnight express mail delivery, while confidence about your choices arrives surface mail.

It’s late and usually gets misdelivered, and then you actually have to go to the post office to pick it up on a weekend because there’s postage still outstanding on it.

The two-step sequence when you need to be courageous

  1. First, you have to commit to the action you want to take.
  2. Then you have to decide to be courageous and do it.

Afterward, you have to wait for the mail to arrive with your confidence inside. (And be prepared for it to arrive late, often very late – every single time).

The last word

Ask yourself this question, “What would I be doing in my business now if I decided to acknowledge the fear but choose to be courageous anyway?” (and remember courage always feels uncomfortable).

Drew Browne Modern Small Business thought-provocateur
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