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Why Practicing Courage is Essential

Growing up in Southern California, my childhood summers involved endless hours in the pool and several years on a local swim team. (My siblings and I were part fish :-).)

My last year on the team included the high dive. It was a bazillion feet high and filled me with terror. I could have opted out, but no one else did and my 12-year-old self didn’t want to be a baby.

Somehow I found the courage to climb that towering ladder week after week, but I was never brave enough to actually dive.

Sometimes I’d simply plant my butt down on the edge of the board and go feet first into the water. Just as often, though, I’d freeze, too terrified to either turn around and walk back down the ladder, or sit down and push off.

Eventually, after what would feel like an eternity, I’d manage to scooch to the back of the board and, shaking like a leaf, crawl back down the steps.

Had I been able to slowly work my way from the three-foot to the ten-foot board (it wasn’t really a bazillion feet!), I’d have been able to practice courage under less terrifying circumstances, and build up enough courage to dive from ten feet. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a series of diving boards in one foot increments.

Eventually the summer ended and with it my last year of swim team, and the high dive ceased to be relevant in my life. Phew!

Of course, that wasn’t my last brush with fear or the need to be courageous.

I’m fairly certain the same is true for you. Fear and discomfort are inevitable.

The very act of professional and personal growth means you’re going to bump into things that feel uncomfortable, scary, or downright terrifying. And for most of us, that feeling is triggered by uncertainty, by wanting to know FOR SURE what’s on the other side.

If I knew FOR SURE that …

  • I’ll be good at [fill in your blank]
  • I won’t be making a mistake
  • I’ll be a good fit
  • This will work out the way I want
  • I won’t get hurt
  • I’ll be liked
  • I won’t have to pretend to be someone I’m not
  • I’ll be successful
  • This new situation will be better than the one I’m in
  • I’ll be happy
  • This is the right decision

… then I’d absolutely go for it!

But we don’t get to know FOR SURE.

That’s why change, whether by choice or not, takes courage. So do bold moves, getting unstuck, and anything else that requires you to get out of your comfort zone.

And that means you need a strong courage muscle.

It’s essential. Fear or discomfort (fear’s quieter cousin) is almost always what stands between you and your bold move toward the change you want to make.

And there’s only one way to build muscle: through practice.

So where do you find the “courage gym”?

In your everyday life.

Practicing courage means making day-to-day choices that get you out of your comfort zone and expand your capacity for being uncomfortable.

Doing anything that feels uncomfortable, scary, unnerving, difficult, daunting, or intimidating is courageous. Doing those things regularly is practicing courage.

There’s not one iota of difference between practicing courage and being courageous.

I know you’ve practiced courage, because there’s no chance you’ve never done anything outside your comfort zone!

There will always be opportunities to be courageous – which is a good thing! It’s in the small, ongoing acts of courage that you build your capacity to make bold moves, get unstuck, and make the choices that lead to success and happiness.

“It takes courage to lead a life. Any life.” ~ Erica Jong

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Sherry Essig