on courage- 4.22.15
For a few months now, a nagging thought has been simmering in the back of my mind. I am not sure what started them. Perhaps it was the remark by someone for whom I have great respect that I appear “cautious” in the face of difficult situations. I would argue that such caution has served me well in my career and in my personal life. There are times when taking a cautious, careful approach speaks to thinking ahead and keeping the end result in mind.
However, caution can be interpreted as lack of courage, as my colleague’s remark attests. And so, I have been for a while now reflecting on what courage really, truly means.
One of the great pleasures of my job is connecting with young people, mostly young girls and women, who inspire me with their commitment, their energy, and their courage. One such young woman is Katlyn Grasso, an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, who has already founded GenHERation, an online leadership development platform for girls. The first time Katlyn and I talked was when she was merely a sophomore at Penn. This year, she is ready to graduate, and I cannot wait to see what her future holds.
One day, Katlyn and I talked about what motivated her - what gave her the gumption to set herself up as the founder and creator of her own organization before she was even 21 years old. Until you really push yourself, she told me, really push yourself outside of your comfort zone, you don’t know your own capacity for courage.
So what is courage? Courage is doing that which is uncomfortable and does not ensure a safe and happy outcome. Courage is speaking up on the playground when you see a classmate being mistreated. It is packing your bags and moving to a different country without knowing anyone there or speaking that country’s language. Courage is putting on a military uniform and following orders that put your life on the line. Courage is going to school, despite threats on your life, as did Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai. Courage is imagining what should be deemed impossible given the circumstances, but going for it anyway.
It seems to me that without courage, there will not be significant change; indeed, without courage we embrace the status quo. It takes courage to create a vision for a better future and to lead others to make that vision a reality.
But courage is not recklessness. It is not going into battle (whatever that battle may be) unarmed. Courage is thoughtfulness and instinct combined - it is the following of your heart that is informed by your head.
I hope that my tendency to be cautious is only thoughtfulness. I hope that when the chips are down, I display the courage I so admire in people like Katlyn Grasso.
Wednesday April, 22, 2015 at 11:18AM
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