Courage is a much-admired trait espoused for success in life and as a leader. We hear news of the incredible courage of sexual assault survivors stepping up to tell their stories, of humanitarians facing danger to selflessly act on behalf of others, and mythic stories of heroes and heroines conquering all manner of challenges. These all serve as inspiration and aspiration to develop our own courage, yet most of us need courage not for momentous, mythic undertakings, but for simple acts in our daily lives. We need courage to take or leave a job, to express our true feelings in a new (or old) relationship, to stand up for ourselves or others or even just to start over after a difficult, disappointing day.
Daily we face challenges, changes or difficult tasks when we may be fearful, unsure or hesitant to move forward. We need the heroine’s courage even in our daily routine. So, where is it? How do we find it? How do we enact it?
Courage is found in that small, quiet space between our intuition telling us what to do and the strength of self-activation to actually DO it. The space between intuition and action is often fleeting and we hesitate to act –quickly caught by disempowering thought patterns, false beliefs, or the laziness of staying in our comfort zones. Courage is capturing the brief opportunity of that “space” and acting despite our fears, despite the challenges, despite the effort, and perhaps even despite what seem to be insurmountable odds against us. Listen to the still small voice, practice courage to face discomfort or fear and take action – even one small action, just act! As Nike tells us “Just do it.” Small acts of courage build confidence and prepare us for more courageous action in the future. It takes practice.
There are so many beautiful quotes and sayings about courage (do a Google search) and I love a good inspirational quote as much as the next person but I confess that on some days, when my energy is low, I have felt a tad skeptical. One quote in particular that always got under my skin is the saying that with courage we can “move mountains.” Um, no, unless you have bulldozers, heavy equipment and years of work ahead of you, you are probably not going to move a mountain and if you do, you’ll only move a portion of it. I know, I know, this is a far too literal interpretation of the saying but come on, be realistic, we can do lots of great things, but we can’t really move mountains so please find a better way to express the idea of courage so I can get on board.
As happens with personal challenges and changes, my thinking about overcoming significant obstacles and specifically about the saying “you can move mountains” has changed with a mindset shift, a new way of thinking, a new perspective. It happened recently when, on a trip to Peru, I actually moved a mountain!
In the fall of 2017 I traveled to Peru and with 11 other adventurous souls, set out on a seven-day trek to Machu Picchu via the Salkantay Trail. The days of hiking were long and rigorous, but we had supportive, knowledgeable guides and we were buoyed by encouraging companionship along the way. My revelation came on day three when we woke early with plans to traverse the Salkantay Glacier where we would cross the pass at 15,315 feet – the highest altitude of the trek. We gazed up at the glacier with some anxiety and trepidation and then off we went, one step at a time. The hike was tough and the air was thin, but we did it! We crossed the pass. As we descended the other side of the glacier, our guide asked us to turn and look at the distance we had covered. The glacier that just that morning was looming large in front of us was now fading into the background behind us. In that moment I realized that we had moved the mountain! We had moved the mountain by moving ourselves. No longer in front of us threatening with fear and anxiety, it now stood behind us offering a beautiful congratulation for a job well done. Through our step by step movement, by persisting through the climb and over the pass, with relentless small steps we had indeed moved the mountain. No bulldozers, no heavy equipment, no years of work, just small steps, one after another.
I don’t think any of us on that day considered that each step we took was an act of courage, but each one was. And so it is in our daily lives; the obstacles we face, even those that loom large, can be moved. By taking small persistent steps, by using the support of guides and companions, by shifting perspective and by courageously moving forward, the obstacle will eventually be behind us instead of in front of us. We just have to trust ourselves to take action and listen to our inner guidance. In that small space, that fleeting moment when our intuition tells us to act, where courage whispers to us to “just do it;” if we can take that first small step, and the next, and the next, we can indeed move mountains.
We move mountains by moving ourselves.
January 29, 2018