Fear often takes on a life of its own. It begins as a reasonable response to actual events during difficult times. But unchecked by hope or courage, fear can consume our rationality, alter our perceptions, and ruin our relationships.
On the heels of a global pandemic, we have legitimate fears for the people of Ukraine and their future as an independent country. We fear the possibility of World War III.
We worry about the continued effects of inflation on the global economy. We worry about new COVID variants, climate change, and hardened political divides.
To add to my own fears and uncertainties, I decided to quit my job a couple of weeks ago and try my hand at freelancing. While my family and friends have been supportive, they’ve also been genuinely concerned, perhaps even fearful, regarding my mental health and the well-being of my family. I try to explain that my desire for flexibility in choosing my own hours and my own projects trumps my desire for a steady paycheck with benefits. I fully understand the risks of making such a career pivot, but I have felt confident about my decision.
Of course, some of my loved ones don’t see it as reasonable. Most notably, my mother-in-law has questioned my wisdom, my work ethic, and my commitment to providing for my family: “Does Paul want to work? I hope he doesn’t not want to work!”
Now my mother-in-law is perfectly within her rights to be concerned about whether I’m making responsible choices. I appreciate that she cares deeply about us. And I appreciate the many friends who’ve reached out to ask what they can do to help me find another job. But I have to be careful that I don’t allow their well-meaning words to feed my personal fears and insecurities until they take on a life of their own.
I can’t do a lot right now to mitigate the chances of World War III. Other than praying and making financial donations to the people of Ukraine, I can’t do much to prevent their suffering. But I can take strength from their courage as I seek to conquer my comparatively smaller fears.
As I personally strive to cultivate a spirit of hope and constructive problem solving in my life, here are some practical tips that I’ve found helpful.
First, know what is important to you and what you personally stand for. In its essence, courage is about doing the right thing in the face of fear. What are you personally willing to sacrifice for? If you haven’t consciously reasoned through the answer to this question, you’re less capable of displaying courage in your life. You have to know what you stand for and who you stand with.
Second, practice doing the right thing. Courage is developed by doing noble things, even when you’re experiencing anxiety or feeling the effects of other personal limitations. Overcoming self-doubt and fear usually doesn’t happen overnight. You have to work at it, exercising practical wisdom and gaining greater confidence in your ability to choose the right each time you succeed. In cultivating courage, remember that your personal golden mean can only be discovered by pushing back against your areas of weakness.
Third, remember that not every courageous act is successful, in terms of righting a wrong, conquering the forces of evil, or rescuing the innocent. For this reason, you have to give yourself permission to fail. This doesn’t mean you give yourself a license to be reckless and risk your life or reputation unwisely. Remember, courage is the happy medium between cowardice and recklessness. Courage acts as directed by reason. But when reason does direct, you need to accept that courage brings with it the risk of failure and the strong possibility of pain.
Fourth, if you want to cultivate the virtue of courage, it’s a good idea to associate with people who are themselves courageous. And as you develop courage, you can inspire others to follow the same course.
In summary, these four tips can help us to cultivate courage: first, know what you stand for; second, use practical wisdom in doing the right thing; third, give yourself permission to fail; and fourth, hang out with courageous people.