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What Is Courage?

Updated: Feb 24, 2022

At NextArrow, we’re enamored with courage. We believe nothing great can be achieved without it. Efforts at candor, confidence, and compassion fall short in its absence.

We’re not the first to realize this. Aristotle, C.S. Lewis, and Maya Angelou argued that all human virtues rest on courage.

But what, exactly, is it?

Courage has been defined differently through the centuries.

Philosophers, like Aristotle, thought of it as a midpoint between cowardice and rashness.

Writers, like Hemingway, have conceptualized it as “grace under pressure.”

Politicians, like John F. Kennedy, defined it as loyalty to nation over political party.

At NextArrow, we've added a new twist to the definition of courage.

Power: By power, we don’t mean formal authority, or nefarious force, but rather a capacity to get something done. If we don’t know how to swim, for example, jumping in the water to save someone is more foolish than courageous. Likewise, if we can’t communicate effectively, our message runs the risk of falling on deaf ears. The call to courage is doomed if we don’t have power.

Purpose: Courageous acts have a higher purpose and value. That's why researchers sometimes differentiate between bravery and courage. It's also why jumping in frozen water to save a life is considered courageous, but risking your life to take a selfie does not. Courage, therefore, is often conceptualized as doing the right thing, not just the hard thing, in the face of your fears. The ‘purpose’ in the courage equation is the why behind your actions.

Dragon: While purpose and power are the foundation of courage, our valor is often stymied by the fears, doubts, and anxieties that hold us back. At NextArrow, we call the inner obstacles to courage our "dragons". The dragon is the voice inside your head that says, “You can’t do this…You’ll be the skunk at the picnic…This is going to hurt.” The stronger the dragons, the weaker the courage.

In summary: courage is likely to flourish when power joins purpose to tame dragons.

NextArrow workshops – from presentation to negotiation skills – are designed to increase the numerator of the courage equation (i.e. develop power through skills and clarity of purpose) and decrease the denominator (i.e. develop tactics to help manage and attenuate fears).

Now it’s your turn!

Select an area in your life that could benefit from more courage.

Use the equation!

What’s the power (knowledge and skill) that’s needed to achieve your goal? On a scale of 1-10, how much power do you think you have? What would increase that score by 1 point?

What's the purpose (the why) behind your action? On a scale of 1-10, how much clarity do you have around your action? What would increase that score by 1 point?

What's your dragon? Identify the dragon that’s holding you back. There may be more than one. On a scale of 1-10, how much sway do they have over you (1 = No biggie. 10 = They paralyze me). What would decrease that score?

Keep in mind, the goal is not to reduce the denominator to zero. That would be unrealistic. In fact, your dragons are what make courage meaningful.

By being systematic and deliberate about developing courage, you’ll be increasingly ready to face whatever challenges come your way.

If you want to learn more about how to increase your courage at work, check out some of our workshops and drop us a line!

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