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Most Courage Happens Behind the Scenes

Photo by Quentin Keller

When we talk about courage, we often see it as a singular event - the good guy overcoming evil or the fish-out-of-water championing fears to fulfill their destiny. We've all heard the stories, seen the headlines, told our own. 

But a call to be courageous is rarely a singular event, and while those monumental moments - though few and far between - do happen, for the rest of us, having courage could simply mean getting out of bed every morning. And from that perspective, the idea of courage seems to lose a bit of its fairy tale luster. We expect dragons to fight, a maiden to save, a puzzle to solve - the glitz and glamour of becoming a hero, allowed to bask in our 15 minutes.

As human beings, many of us seem to need the acceptance, recognition, and reassurance that, yes, I am a good person, what I'm passionate about is important, and you're goddamn right my work matters. But, our downfall is expecting success to feel like a hero's welcome, as if we're passing through the gates of Rome in all of our glory, hoping the paparazzi will get our best side for the cover.

But things seldom work out that way. In fact, a great deal of your personal success will go unnoticed and unappreciated.

The report you practically killed yourself to finish? Ignored. The new skill you learned over the course of a year? Laughed at. The brilliant suggestion you came up with at work? Given that disappointed scowl.

Remember: we're all human.

That report might have been a necessary afterthought. That new skill might be ahead of its time. And maybe that scowl has nothing to do with you. We can't let uncertainties, disappointments, or minor emotional bruises get in the way of achieving our goals, or putting forth our best work. And we certainly can't let our hopes for immediate validation cripple us, prevent us from trying, or braving any behind-the-scenes hustle. 

So Where Does That Leave Courage?

Philosophy has plenty of insightful opinions on courage and fortitude, but I believe Neil Gaiman actually said it best by suggesting, and we're paraphrasing here, that fear is boring - just do the next thing on the list.

That might seem oversimplified, but truly, that's all courage comes down to for us mere mortals, existing outside of novels and epic poetry, whose biggest obstacle can oftentimes be ourselves. We have to fight, especially with ourselves, for what we love on a daily basis, and somehow, on a more epic scale. But it needn't be overwhelming:

Simply make a list of things you most want or need to do (you know what you need to do) and have the guts to take action until you've checked them off the list.

Start that Etsy store or photography business.
Spend time with your Grandmother and transcribe her stories.
Take that trip to Peru, because, hell yeah, Peru.
Or persevere with an idea until you've made it work.

You fall back down, you get back up. Again and again and again.

And yes, at some point, you're going to fail. It might be a small mistake; it might be a really big one. It might be as simple as a failure to communicate - but it will happen. Just don't live your life in fear of it happening. Accept that it will, handle it when it happens, learn from it, and then keep going.

Keep working on your list.

Each time you scratch off another challenge, another experiment, or another discovery, you will become stronger, smarter, and you got it, more courageous. And if you do this regularly, you'll find that it builds momentum, which works to quell your fears and help you reach your ultimate goal.

Because Courage Isn't Waiting for Your Moment to Strike.

It's taking advantage of every moment you have right now.