Courage is something everyone wants. It’s a sacred desire we all have in common; whether we wish to be courageous to make our marriages last, raise healthy children, overcome anxiety or to step out of our comfort zone to take a risk. But if courage is something we all desire, why don’t we see everyone experiencing it?
I remember walking into my first hip hop class at the age of twenty two. I was overweight and tired of living under the label I’d be carrying since grade 7 that my class gave me, “Connie Chunk”. I was 22, and very insecure. For 10 years I had been teased for my weight, pushed aside, and sometimes even physically bullied. Walking into that hip hop class was scary, but I really wanted to try. I struggled with knowing if I would end up feeling like a failure and not get the moves, but hip hop was always something that intrigued me to try. Week after week I showed up and battled through my insecurity of not only feeling awkward for my lack of groove, but being in a room full of beautiful, thin girls. The first time the class formed a dance circle, I almost cried. The last place I wanted to be was alone in the middle of a circle. What if they laughed at me? Judged me? I went in palms sweaty and full of fear. I’m sure the move I did was probably the lamest move ever, but instead of ridicule I found a circle of supportive people who made me feel safe. When I came out of the circle, someone said to me: “You are so courageous”! It was there I found a new label because someone spoke something different over me. “Connie Chunk” was replaced by “Courageous” that day, and I’ve spent the last 20 years giving that gift of courage away to over 40,000 students in our public schools.
One thing I learned about courage when I entered that cypher is that courage does not guarantee success or failure. Yet it turns out you and I influence courage in each other more than we knew. Words and labels people have given us, or even the labels we’ve given ourselves can be our greatest limitation to courage. I remember thinking, “Would Connie Chunk do this?” before venturing into something new. It was only till someone spoke something different, and I believed it, that I saw breakthrough.
There is only one way to courage, and that is strait through our fear. What do we do with fear? We often attempt to avoid it at all costs, but as a wise 12 year old boy said to me when I asked him, “What would you do if you had no fear?”, he replied, “If I had no fear there would be no risk”. Wow. Mindblown. Looks like fear is an opportunity.
When it comes to stepping past fear into courage, there are some barriers to overcome.
- Self Protection: This is when we attempt to control our environment that is making us feel uncomfortable. We may appear aloof or disinterested. We may even put others down or find ourselves being overly critical of others and ourselves. This is merely our self going into protection mode. No one wants to look like a fool in front of others, yet we rob others of the gift of ourselves when we take ourselves too seriously. I always talk about Carlton from Fresh Prince of Bel Aire when I speak because he is the perfect example of the freedom and happiness others experience when we allow ourselves to BE. Who doesn’t love Carlton?! And yet his dance moves arent’t half as impressive as Will Smith’s, but we buy into him because he allows his self to be seen without shame.
- Shame: The one thing that brings shame to most of us is the feeling of being “ordinary”. We feel ordinary when our culture tells us to live extraordinarily, when our lives don’t seem to compare with others on social media, and when we feel our talents and gifts don’t seem to measure as good as others. Shame is self worth that depends on what we accomplish. Shame happens every time you hold back. At the root of it, shame is actually the fear of being disconnected; disconnected from belonging, being understood, valued, and having the chance to be a part of something.
- Perfection: If we wait till we are perfect to step out in courage, then we never will. “Perfect” doesn’t exist. Perfectionism isn’t the same as striving to do things well. Perfectionism guards, puts up walls, and defends what we feel is ours to keep to ourselves. The problem with waiting to be perfect is that it’s a hustle you will never win. In fact, perfectionism has been linked with depression and anxiety. It’s a moving target we will never hit.
- Fear: Every time you step out to do something you desire, you may hear this statement whisper in your mind, “Who do you think you are?” What gives you the right to step out? It’s a good question. Why YOU? You are worthy to be brave. Yes you. Not just the person sitting next to you, or the person who you think has all the confidence in the world. YOU. You have every right to step out of your fear and into courage. When asking students to join a dance circle I always find it interesting when someone says ‘no’. “No” makes people think there’s something to be afraid of. When one person says ‘no’, you can guarantee others who have caught the fear-vibe will be saying a BIG ‘NO’ as well. On the other hand, when no one says ‘no’ to going in the cypher, no one gives fear a second thought. Everyone is too busy enjoying the freedom of courage they are experiencing in themselves and others.
- Comparison: It squishes creativity, because when we compare, we don’t see what we have to offer is valid. Comparison steals from us. It steals opportunities where we could have succeeded. It steals our peace of mind and lies to us to focus more on what we lack. It steals our friendships, causing us to become jealous and to put on more armour to protect ourselves. “Worrying happens when we’ve experienced comparison and dissatisfaction with ourselves so much that we don’t join together to heal. Instead we get jealous of one another and isolate ourselves”. – Brene Brown.
What does a courageous person look like?
A courageous person….
Is afraid…. but steps out anyways
Lets go of their armour and invisibility cloak, allowing others to SEE them
Fails…. often but knows that growth comes from taking risks and learning from failure.
Doesn’t take failure personally
Lives honestly about their shortcomings without hating on themselves
Isn’t afraid of hard work and perseveres when things are hard
Learns from others and accepts feedback
Creates courage in others
Lets go of comparison
Knows they are enough, even when they’re not “the best”
Works for excellence but isn’t bound by the prison of perfectionism
Embraces how uncomfortable it is to put themselves out there
Surrenders the outcome
You were born to be courageous. You have what it takes. Where do you find courage? You find it when you step past fear. There are no short cuts. Courage happens in your every day, small choices. It’s who you are when no one’s looking and the bravery to show who you truly are when everyone IS looking. It’s letting go of needing to be in control and surrendering to whatever outcome. It’s realizing there is enough room for every one to succeed.It’s when you show up and let yourself be seen. It’s an ongoing process that will never end. We need to be willing to continuously choose courage throughout our lives. It’s reassuring to know that everyone relates; we ALL struggle with being courageous, but at the same time, we can all experience the freedom courage can bring us when we choose to live it.
When we become more courageous we see less bullying, violence, racism, depression, identify crisis, self shame and instead see more creative social change, confidence, possibility, and freedom. “Acting on courage is the first step to any kind of self development. Once we learn to be courageous ourselves, we can spark courage within our societies”, – Ryan DeGuzman.
The world around you needs your courageous acts. Are you ready to live this kind of reality? You can. I dare you.
*This blog post included content from my new “Courage Program” Mpact Movement is bringing to create cultures of courage in schools. If you are interested in the program coming to your school, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out our website for more info.