What Does Courage Look Like?

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The image that always seems to pop into my head when I think about courage is from a book that I had when I was a child. I don’t even remember what the book was about, certainly not courage, but there was an illustration of a lion tamer putting his head into the lion’s mouth. He was smiling and the lion obviously had no intention of biting off his head. All the same, I apparently was struck by the risk that was being taken. Even if all was going to end well, there was no guarantee and it took courage to do it.

My ideas of courage have changed through the years. Getting up in front of a group of people and speaking certainly is an arena where I have had to call on courage. Every time I lead a retreat, I feel courageous. Even after over 50 retreats, I still have that moment as I approach the date that I feel “this is crazy!” and worry how the retreat will be received. But I have learned how to forge ahead, even with fear, and overcome my doubts and lead the retreat or do public speaking.

Courage in my every day life comes in small bits but is still measured by my heartbeats and nerves. It comes when I step out of the routine of my day, from the mindless tasks that I can let eat up all my hours, and make room for doing something for myself. It happens when I say no to a request to join a board or volunteer for a new job and I have to push back from all the people-pleasing training I received as a child. It takes courage for me to sit down at the computer to write and I force myself to stare at the blank page until my fingers start moving. It takes courage to start crafting the life I want to live, step by step. From getting out of warm bed at 5:30 a.m. on a cold and dark winter morning to run to designing a new web site for my retreats and putting myself out there in new ways. To stand up and declare this is who I am, quell the voice of the inner critic who comes from the place of fear in our hearts, and be imperfectly and vulnerably myself. Courage is the price we pay to be the person we want to be and the reward is pure joy.

I see courage in every woman who attends one of my retreats. I can see in her eyes that she cannot believe that she is taking time for herself. Women are almost giddy when they arrive and sometimes I feel that this is enough. I could leave, let them talk and share, and when I say the retreat is over three hours later that they would leave happy. When they leave, they are always emboldened to take the next courageous step. Once we know that fear can no longer stop or defeat us, we start moving forward with conviction and curiosity to see what else we can do, what new skills can we learn, what new lives await us.

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