There are few human qualities that are more challenging, more painful, more exhausting, more empowering and more rewarding than courage.
When confronted with fear of any kind, it’s easy to become paralyzed or tempted to run far away from that which presents the worst of what could…might…perhaps…possibly happen. It’s a powerful driver that serves as a powerful anchor in our professional and personal lives. To overcome these fears, whether big or small, we are tasked to dig deep into our emotional and cerebral reserves to do what we know – at our core – is best and what is right. An internal struggle, or some might say…a war within our internal selves to determine which direction we’ll walk. Some succumb to this awesome task, while others take a deep breath and venture towards True North.
This is what courage is all about.
We find ourselves at the beginning of a new year with an opportunity to reflect on where we are and where we want to go. As a result, a great many of you reading this article are committed to your professional evolution with a list of wants and wishes. As part of this list of betterment, I’d like to encourage you to prioritize one more goal this year:
To be more courageous.
It’s a most noble endeavor – and not for the faint of heart. But the dividends will be life changing. To achieve this feat, one needs an approach – a plan, a step-by-step strategy broken down into pieces to make it more manageable…and doable. So for those who are ready and willing, the dissected approach below will provide a practical framework to work through your goals and help you develop the courage to reach them.
1. Identify Your Situation.
Do you want to quit your job? Ask for more money? Vie for a better title? Stand up to an abusive boss? Did you just get fired? Passed over for a promotion? Do you want to stand your ground? Toot your horn? Blow the whistle? Say “no” more often? The first step in being courageous is to be clear about the situation in front of you. So whether it’s a goal or a situation in which you’ve found yourself, objectively analyze what is in front of you to determine exactly where you are.
2. What is Your Objective?
After you’ve determined the situation you’d like to address/manage, ask yourself: In a perfect world, “What do I want to accomplish here? What is the outcome I am seeking? How does this square with my values and principles?” In a world with no negative impressions, consequences or judgments, what path and result would you rationally choose for yourself? This is your inner-self talking so take heed of the answer that emerges.
3. Identify Your Fear.
Fear plagues everyone in some way, in some form at some time. And at times, it can be amorphous – a feeling that’s hard to pinpoint. For career situations that evoke fear, the first step in developing the courage to deal with it is to know: (a) that you are fearful; and (b) what you’re afraid of. So what’s the best way to do this? In a quiet spot, play out your situation from beginning to end and assess your feelings as they arise. As you think, are you feeling stressed? Anxious? Scared? Worried? If so, what thoughts are provoking those feelings? Write everything down as you work through this narrative. Then, step away for a period of time to process. Once you return, turn back to your thoughts and notes and see if the role that fear is playing and its impact on your situation is clearer. If so, move on to Step 4. If not, dig a bit deeper as you repeat this exercise.
4. What Are the Benefits and Detriments?
There are benefits and detriments to each situation as well as your objective for it. For each goal/situation, what is virtuous and good about the outcome you have envisioned? What is the very best that can result from your actions – now and in the future? On the flip side, note the potential negative results. Make a list and note your accompanying feelings.
5. Weigh and Prioritize.
Once you get to this point, you’ll need to methodically work through the benefits, detriments…and fear. But you must first put fear in perspective. What’s the best way? Play out the worse case scenario and insert solutions. If you’re not sure of how this would impact you personally or professionally, ask an expert and gather the data from those in the know. By working through the worst that could happen and how you’d manage it, you confront the unknown and suddenly potential outcomes don’t look as dire or risky. Once fear is in proper perspective, you can weigh the importance of the benefits and detriments of the choices in front of you.
6. Create Your Plan.
If you have concluded that you are ready and willing to move forward through your fear to achieve what you want, you’ll need a strategic plan to make it happen. For example, if you’d like to finally ask for that raise, a step-by-step plan to prepare your argument and make your case will facilitate the confidence and courage to make it happen. If you’ve been fired and need a new job or if you want to report wrongdoing that you’ve witnessed – a detailed strategy to achieve your goals is a must. You can’t wing it. You can’t rely on others. You can’t go half way. You have to go all in in order to gain the courage and resolve to follow through.
7. Just Do It.
No plan is any good if it’s not well executed. So commit the time and effort to follow your plan and…just do it. In addition, practice makes perfect and is also a remedy for cold feet. Being well prepared mitigates the negative “what if” influences, instills confidence and helps generate the courage to create the change you seek.
8. Celebrate Your Accomplishment.
If you have developed the courage to face fear and overcome it – in whatever capacity, you have earned a well-deserved pat on the back. This is big stuff! So do something nice for yourself to celebrate this accomplishment. A massage, drinks with friends, a new handbag, a day off, a trip…whatever you choose, make it meaningful. Not enough people celebrate their victories, which is detrimental to our mental health. By acknowledging our achievements, we feel good about ourselves and develop more confidence to pursue the things we want and know are best.
We are living in a time where courage is a welcomed friend. But like anything this virtuous, it takes exceptional character to walk through the sand storm of fear to attain it. Some succeed and many others fail. But one thing is certain; we all possess the capacity to perform courageous acts for ourselves and others. Whether we seize the opportunity is up to us. So as the curtain rises on 2017, use the guidance above to tap into your exceptional character…and walk the professional path that will lead you to your own True North.