Courage – The Gift That Keeps on Giving

In reading, Keep Your Fork-Dessert Is On The Way: Savoring the Second Half of Life, you will find many stories about the virtues that are enhanced as we get older. Creativity, resilience, passion, embracing change are just a few of the desirable traits that are augmented as we gather more life experiences.

hikersI’ve been curious to learn more about what role courage plays in our creating a satisfying second half of life. Do we get more courageous because we have our life experiences to give us confidence or do we get less courageous because we look at the mistakes we have made and the fact that everyone around us seems smarter, sharper, and knows more about the electronic stuff than we do?

It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to                     embrace the new.  But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful.  There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.  – Alan Cohen

I want to know what I was born for and I want the courage to do it.  – Joan of Arc

You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along’.  – Eleanor Roosevelt.

Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.  – Mary Anne Radmacher

And don’t you love this one?

Courage is being scared to death…and saddling up anyway.  – John Wayne

Saddling up has a different twist than it did when I was younger. Twenty years ago I felt I had more time to climb Mount Kilimanjaro, open my own business, write the New York Times best seller and other things that would make me feel that I had lived a fulfilled life. To embrace the fact that time is getting shorter makes it more important than ever to forge ahead. Now to be courageous is going where no man (or woman) has gone before but to do it quicker. (I have been a Start Trek groupie of quite awhile.)

Marian P. Downs, MA is celebrating her 100th birthday in January 2014. Marian is a retired professor from the University of Colorado Health Science Center. She has written a book, Shut Up and Live…(you know how). In her book, she writes that when she was 72, she realized that it was the age her parents had died. She felt she no longer had a road map – no guidelines on how to live longer than that. She asked her doctor for advice. He said, “That my dear is something you are going to have to work out for yourself.” That answer might have left her frustrated, but instead she designed a life that “includes good sex, lots of exercise, close friends, capable doctors and intelligent eating.”

This is the time of our life not to go to sleep but to become alive – perhaps in a different way – using our skills gained in our lives. Courage is like a habit, a virtue. You get it by courageous acts.

My favorite quote is from Mark Rutherford who wrote, When we are afraid we ought not to occupy ourselves with the endeavor to prove that there is no danger but in strengthening ourselves to go on in spite of the danger.

Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D. is a Clinical Psychologist in Mill Valley, California and has designed this courage-building exercise:

For this exercise, you will need a notebook and pen, as well as a quiet, uninterrupted space in which you can reflect.

Beginning with the first definition of courage, “Feeling Afraid Yet Choosing to Act,” answer the following questions:

Think of a situation as an adult when you felt afraid, yet chose to face your fear?

  • What did you observe, think, and feel at the time? (e.g., “I saw the roller coaster and felt butterflies in my stomach”).
  • What did you or the people around you say, think, and do to help you face your fear? (e.g., “I told myself that if little kids could go on it, so could I”).
  • At what point did your fear start to go down? How did you feel afterwards?
  • Now think back on a situation in childhood in which you faced your fear. How was it the same or different than the first situation?
  • Finally, think of a situation you are currently facing that creates fear or anxiety. What are you most afraid of? (e.g. being fired if I ask my boss for a raise).
  • Now, is there a way to apply the same skills you used in the two earlier situations to be more courageous this situation. Remind yourself that you have these skills and have used them successfully in the past. What mental or environmental barriers stand in the way of using these skills? How can you cope with or get rid of these barriers?

Repeat this exercise over the course of a week, using each definition of courage above. On Day 7, come up with your own definition of courage that is most meaningful to you and repeat the whole exercise using this definition.

I knew from the research I did in writing Keep Your Fork that this can be the most exciting time in our life as we have enhanced creative abilities, become more resilient, have a greater ability to act on our passions and to embrace change. I thank Maya Angelou, PhD for answering my question about how the role that courage plays in the manifestation of those virtues.

Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.

As you “saddle up” for 2014, remember that the universe is conspiring in your favor.

A very Happy New Year to you!


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