“The only courage you will ever need is the courage to live the life you want,” Oprah Winfrey says.
What is courage? Defined literally, it is the ability and willingness to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation. Physical courage shows in the face of physical pain, hardship, death, or threat of death, while moral courage is the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, or discouragement.
Thus we think of courage as something only required in those most traumatic, milestone moments of our lives. And yet, there is a different kind of bravery that is evident in everyday life. Here are a few suggestions to consider the courage you are summoning each day.
1. Courage in this sense is trusting in your own strength. It is being your own champion, your biggest fan. It is also looking candidly at your own weaknesses and shortcomings, saying, “I am better than this,” and taking action.
2. There is courage in individualism, in being true to yourself. This is so very hard for youth who want so desperately to fit in with a social group, and yet at the same time are realizing that individualism is a biological force. We are a person first and a member of a group second; some days, just standing upright within that natural conflict takes courage.
3. There is courage in exhibiting self-respect. According to television’s Dr. Phil, “We teach other people how to treat us.” The next time you are treated in a disrespectful manner and you choose to accept that by staying silent rather than standing up for yourself and speaking your truth, remind yourself that you can indeed make another choice.
4. Ernest Hemingway famously defined courage as “grace under pressure.” In the heat of a crisis it is the easy path to let your emotions run free and rule; it takes maturity to resist and exhibit behavior you can be proud of afterward.
5. “Courage is the discovery that you may not win, and trying when you know you can lose,” Christian author Tom Krause writes. This is the courage that is nurtured in playing sports, particularly when yours clearly isn’t the championship team.
6. Courage is knowing the truth and telling it. Certainly courage is learning how to honestly look at a situation and speak the truth, but there’s more to it than that–we’re not mere cameras and microphones, after all. The courage behind honesty means truth-telling in a way that respects others, takes into account the emotions of the situation, and exercises tact. It’s also about timing: you may be ready to speak the truth before someone else is ready to hear it.
7. Perhaps just the act of creating your own work requires courage. You must be a bold person to get your ideas out of your head and into the world. Sometimes it takes courage to resist convention and let your innermost self show. Artists understand this courage.
8. There is an element of courage in the discipline of practicing self-care. If it is easy to neglect your health, grab whatever food is handy, abuse substances, and avoid exercise. It is hard—and therefore requires discipline—to make better choices. To move toward any act that requires discipline and to resist the easy path requires a kind of dedication, a promise, and a value honored. To make that choice day after day, regardless of what life throws at us, is an example of everyday courage.
9. Meanwhile, courage is also mastering how and when to let go of self-absorption that is so intrinsic to our species. Babies don’t have to be brave. It takes years to learn to be about something greater than yourself, to share what you have, and to learn to give freely to others without fear that you will somehow be lessened in the process.
10. It takes courage to resist the lull of the ordinary, mundane, or complacent. Perhaps it is even courage when you show up and stay awake. Our modern goal seems to gravitate to any innovation that makes life easier, enjoyment close at hand, work quicker, tasks more convenient. But the late writer and social activist Grace Paley urged us, “Let us go forth with fear and courage and rage to save the world.”