Choose Courage

My heart raced. I cracked wise while trying not to “white knuckle” the pegs as I climbed some 80 feet into the air and prepared to cross the log suspended between two 120-year-old Douglas firs. I paused and took a deep breath as I tried to ignore the distracting calls of encouragement from my belay team below.

I had been here before. A few years ago, as a participant in another leadership development program, I had stood frozen in this exact spot. Sliding my foot forward, my ankle “tweaked” and my courage winked out like a candle in a breeze. Still in physical therapy after a torn Achilles tendon, I blamed my failure on a weak ankle. The Truth, which took weeks to bubble to the surface, is that I was scared spitless. That’s spitless with a “P”.

Courage is the state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face threatening situations with self-assurance and self-reliance. Courage is bravery and valor; it is the quality that athletes refer to as “heart”. Courage is inner strength, moral stamina, and the inherent capacity for rising to a challenge with steadfastness of purpose. Courage is faith in oneself. Courage is having a self-confident attitude!

A host of experts have recognized the power of attitude. Karl Menninger, the celebrated psychiatrist, said, “Attitudes are more important than facts.” William James, a psychologist, said, “The greatest discovery in our generation is that human beings, by changing the inner attitudes of their minds, can change all the outer aspects of their lives.” The great English poet, Lord Byron, wrote, “We can choose our attitude in any set of circumstances.” Leadership expert John C. Maxwell said that your attitude can do three things for you:

  1. Your attitude makes a difference in your approach to life.
  2. Your attitude makes a difference in your relationships with people.
  3. Your attitude makes a difference in how you face challenges.

So how do you change your attitude? Like crossing a log in the air, it begins with a small step. A law of physics states that a body at rest tends to stay at rest. More energy and more power are required to start a car or a plane than are required to keep it going. More force and power are required to change directions than to keep moving in a straight line. Courage, like the trim tabs on a boat rudder or an airplane’s wing, supplies the tiny extra surge of energy needed to initiate change. Courage is not the absence of fear, but the absence of self. A positive Attitude is a frame of mind that allows courage to blossom. It takes courage to change—to change your attitude, to change the way you organize your time, to change relationship, to change who and what you are.

Once you begin, momentum keeps you moving. That is the other side of that law of physics: Bodies in motion tend to stay in motion. Take that first step and you will notice even greater self-confidence and courage. Nothing breeds success like success. Your positive attitude compounds exactly like the interest on a savings account and gives you the courage to do what seems impossible.

I didn’t exactly dance across that log. It was more of a shaky shuffle; one foot sliding to the other. When my hand touched bark on the tree at the other end of the log, I couldn’t help but do a fist pump. And let go of the breath I’d been holding. My belay team cheered!


David McNamee, Ph.D.
David McNamee, Ph.D.
David McNamee, Ph.D. is an author, master educator, and leadership expert with documented success in public, private, domestic, and international sectors. David is a Professor of Leadership at the University of Arkansas Grantham, International Faculty at Jesuit Worldwide Learning, and a member of the Board of Directors at the Rotary Fellowship of Leadership Education and Development. With his son, he is co-author of "Servant Leadership Lessons for Middle School" available on Amazon.

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