Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Nancy Seibel, M.Ed., NCC, BCC.
From the series’ earliest films to the latest and last, the Star Wars movies’ portrayals of courage have awed me every time.
“Could I ever do something like that?” I wondered as I watched The Rise of Skywalker’s outnumbered Rebel Alliance fight their epic battle with the evil First Order.
I’ve never thought of courage as one of my character strengths, because I tend to equate it with the acts of physical bravery and self-sacrifice that the Star Wars movies portray. But as Charlie says in Start Finishing:
…typifying larger-than-life heroic actions as courage can too easily mask the everyday courage we need to thrive; it also gives us an easy out. — Start Finishing, 31
But even the courageous characters in The Rise of Skywalker were frightened as they faced their crucial battle. They acted in spite of their fear, which describes how I’ve felt any time I’ve done something that I’ve later understood as courageous.
As Charlie Gilkey points out in Start Finishing, courage is one of the five keys to overcoming the barriers to doing our best work. There are tremendous examples of courage to be found in our everyday choices and actions (31).
Finding the Courage in My Own Choices
None of these four moments were extraordinary ones:
- I asked a difficult question. I was perhaps 10 or 11 when I asked my mother to clear up my puzzlement. I said something like, “How come whenever you tell a story about something that happened with a black person, you always mention their color, but you don’t say anything about their color if the person is white?” I remember being nervous asking her this, but genuinely wanting to understand. My mother angrily denied what I was saying. I recall standing my ground, restating that I’d often heard her do this.
- I committed to natural childbirth as a 27-year old, first-time expectant mother. I was very afraid of the pain I’d be facing, but because the anesthesia available at the time was known to be harmful to newborns, I was determined to avoid it. To my own pride and my obstetrician’s amazement, I did it.
- Ten years later I stood up in front of 400 people, among them many of our city’s wealthiest and influential citizens, to give an inspirational speech that I’d written. The whole thing was terrifying, but my very ill executive director had asked me to step in on her behalf, and I didn’t want to let her down.
- I was diagnosed with breast cancer four years ago. I was determined to do all I could to promote my own healing and recovery. That never felt like fearlessness. Much of the time I was more deeply afraid than I’d ever been. Rather, it felt like I was doing what I had to do in the face of continuous assaults on my body, mind, and spirit.
Though there’s a certain amount of physical bravery in these examples (which surprises me!), there are other forms of courage here, too. According to psychologist Melanie Greenberg, there are six forms of courage, and each of us has at least one of them.
The Six Forms of Courage
We can use the forms of courage that we’re strongest in to help us when other forms of courage are called for. I’ve illustrated each form of courage with a quote to help bring it to life. Which of these six forms of courage do you see in yourself?
- Feeling Fear Yet Choosing to Act
Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow. — Carrie Fisher
- Following Your Heart
Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. — Steve Jobs
- Persevering in the Face of Adversity
I pray they will carry on in spite of that dreadful monster prejudice, and with patience, courage, fortitude, and perseverance, achieve success for themselves. — Major Taylor
- Standing up for What’s Right
Develop enough courage so that you can stand up for yourself and then stand up for somebody else. — Maya Angelou
- Expanding your Horizons (or Letting Go of the Familiar)
There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved for the sake of something greater. — Veronica Roth
- Facing Suffering with Dignity or Faith
Judaism’s approach to suffering rests on three pillars… we acknowledge the reality of suffering, resolve to oppose and resist it in any way we can and hold tight to the belief that we will one day eliminate it and triumph over its demise. — Rabbi Steven Weil, Suffering with Dignity
Let Your Own Courage Guide You
I have no problem mustering the courage for public speaking, sales, or sharing my work in public, but I’ll only sing and play guitar in front of people I really trust… — Charlie Gilkey, Start Finishing, 41
Like Charlie, I’m more courageous in some situations than in others. That’s true for most of us.
When we’re fearful, other people’s support can make all the difference in helping us move forward. We also can draw courage from our own examples. We can remember our past acts of courage and use what we learned to help us in situations that call for a kind of courage that isn’t our strongest suit.
This exercise*, which we used in my Writing for Resilience group, can help you do that. Let yourself remember some experiences in adulthood and in childhood when you were afraid, and yet in spite of the fear, you took effective action. Make a brief list of those experiences.
- Choose one of the situations you faced in adulthood. What was the situation? Who was involved?
- What did you think, feel, do, or say that helped you face your fear?
- Was there a point when the fear started to decrease?
- What was the result? How did you feel afterwards?
- Next, choose a situation from your childhood in which you effectively faced your fear. How was it the same or different from the first situation?
- Think of a situation you’re facing now that’s bringing up anxiety or fear. What are you most worried about, or most afraid of?
- Is there anything from these situations and what you learned from them that can help you handle the current situation?
*Exercise adapted from Melanie Greenberg’s “The Six Attributes of Courage”
Courage is important in the personal and professional realms of life, and is one of the keys enabling us to do our best work. (Tweet this.) Even knowing this, I must say that you’ll never find me parachuting from an airplane! I’ll leave that one to those who have more physical courage than me! And that’s okay — we don’t need to be strong in all six forms of courage in order to benefit from our capacity for courage.
Instead we can recognize the forms of courage that we’re strong in, which might vary from one situation to the next. Using our strengths can help us shore up and make good use of the forms of courage needed in certain situations.
Do you have questions about any of this? Comment below or contact me directly! I’d love to hear from you.