“Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it is the quality which guarantees all others.” – Winston Churchill
All other virtues are lofty sentiments until we activate them with courage. What is honesty if we feel it is safer to hide the truth? What is hope if we give into despair? With courage, we are directed to take action and can turn our dreams into a reality.
It is much easier to fold the cards and stay in your comfort zone than it is to find the courage to move forward. Taking action on something you are not familiar with can be scary and intimidating, but it can lead to greater opportunities.
Let us refer back to Richard DeVos’s philosophy that life is defined by four stages. The first stage is the build/create stage, where we explore new horizons. This is the stage where we find growth; it is also the stage that requires an abundance of courage. Though we are not immune to any one stage in life, we should strive to maintain this build/create attitude.
“Do one thing every day that scares you.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
It is not the opportunity you say “no” to you should fear; it is the opportunity that you say “yes” to when you should have said “no” that can hurt you the most.
We must balance courage with risk management. We look at our opportunities and evaluate the possible consequences and potential rewards. You are never going to know every answer, but the key is objective analysis and intuition. Once you have completed your analysis, and if you see a chance for new opportunity, you have to find the courage to act on it.
When you get to your grave, you do not want to look back on life and pay the price of, “I could have, should have, would have.” Most of the population lives this regretful lifestyle, wishing they could go back and do something they once feared. The rearview mirror always has 20/20 vision.
Instead, you can live a life of discipline where you pay the price in the present for what can be in the future. Practice being courageous and make it part of your daily routine. Set a goal where you can end each day saying, “I lived in this day, and I took everything it had to offer.” Do not fear failure but rather embrace faith. Develop habits in accordance with your values.
Facing Adversity with Resilience
We all face adversity at one point or another. As you move up in business, the more adversity you will come across. Compare the country’s president to a state governor, then to a local CEO… the greater the role, the more problems you have to deal with.
Business and life… It is all a journey. Courage is the determination to find the resilience needed to run the entire journey despite challenges along the way. You will not wake up every day and think, “I got this.” Some days you will think, “This is overwhelming.” You have to find the courage to act anyway. Knowing your destination will help you find that courage.
Resilience begins when you know where you are and where you need to be. One of the greatest challenges in the entrepreneurial journey is staying on course. At some point, your vision may feel so much bigger than yourself and seem out of reach. If this happens, stop and evaluate. What progress have you made thus far? What must be accomplished to reach your endpoint? Recognizing your reality will bring you that much closer to the horizon.
The remarkable story of Admiral Jim Stockdale, a U.S. military officer who was a prisoner of war for eight years in Vietnam, reinforces the principle of having the right kind of courage. As a POW in the infamous Hanoi Hilton, Stockdale had to endure the horrors of the prison camp while trying to hold on to the hope of one day returning home to his family. Somehow, he found the courage to survive.
Although Stockdale never lost faith, fully believing he would prevail in the end, he was brutally realistic in accepting his current reality, which was the paradox. The other prisoners, optimistic they would be released any day, chose not to confront the reality of their situation. Eventually, their hopes gave way to despair, which caused many to die.
Stockdale, too, was hopeful for the future, but unlike the optimists, he also understood the merciless facts. They would be tortured until they were freed. From this brutal environment, Stockdale did what he could to prolong all their lives, even creating a tapping code for the prisoners to communicate with one another.
This is the Stockdale Paradox, one focus of Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great.” Collins and his research team discovered that Stockdale’s mindset correlated to those of executives whose companies underwent a good-to-great transition.
Entrepreneurship is all about the belief any dream is possible, but it is also about facing the reality of the challenges and obstacles you must confront every day. Courage holds these in balance with the resilience to finish.