“To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires … courage.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson, 19th century essayist
All of us have heard about the Great Depression of the 1930’s. In fact, we might have grown up hearing our parents or grandparents talk about it … about how tough it was and how it changed their lives forever.
Now I hear people talk about the Great Recession of 2008, 2009, and maybe beyond. And who knows if they’re right or not. Economists, futurists, and fortune tellers seem to have about the same rate of accuracy when it comes to predicting the future.
But this I do know. Times are tough for a lot of people, and tough times require COURAGE. And those who learn COURAGE and exhibit COURAGE always come through the tough times in the best shape. So how do you get COURAGE?
=> 1. Practice persistence.
Keep on keeping on … even if you don’t feel like it. So what if you fall down? So what if you make a mistake? So what if you lose a customer, a business, a home, a relationship, or anything else that is vitally important to you? It’s terrible, of course, but it’s not the end of the world … if you practice persistent courage.
As essayist Herbert Kaufman noted, “Failure is only postponed success as long as courage ‘coaches’ ambition. The habit of persistence is the habit of victory.”
In other words, if you will simply hang in there, be patient, persistent, and courageous, more often than not you’ll make it through the tough times in pretty good shape.
Michael Staver, an executive coach, puts it this way. He says COURAGE is an acronym for:
Personally, I can testify to the effectiveness of Staver’s COURAGE acronym. It’s gotten me through physical, financial, occupational, and relational crises more often than I care to count.
And then, in your efforts to build more courage…
=> 2. Make a conscious decision to pick yourself up … each and every day.
That’s what I saw some of the inmates do when I worked as a counselor at a reform school, Boysville of Michigan. Those who learned to pick themselves up … instead of blaming other people such as their parents, teachers, or friends … and those who learned to stop blaming other institutions such as their schools, the system, or the government … came out all right.
And that’s exactly what Reginald Berry learned to do … even though it took him a long, long time. He spent several years behind bars, many of them in solitary confinement, in a room with only a sliver of natural light. His meals were pushed through a slot in the steel door, and showers were permitted once a week.
Today, however, Berry is an upstanding member of the community. He works for two social service organizations, leads discussion groups of young homeless men, and negotiates peace treaties between gangs. He has his own nonprofit organization, SOS (Saving Our Sons), for which he makes presentations in schools debunking the romanticized myths surrounding street life, gangs, violence and prison.
You see … many people would have folded under the pressure. After all, Berry had more than his fair share of tough times. But Berry didn’t fold. After his first night in solitary confinement, he began sleeping on the floor rather than the bed. As he says, it was a literal reminder for me, “Every day I got to pick myself up off the floor.”
I’m not saying you have to sleep on the floor of your bedroom, but I am saying you have to quit feeling sorry for yourself. You’ve got to stop whining about how bad your circumstances are, and you’ve got to start picking yourself up off the floor of your own little pity party. And you may have to do that every day. But that’s why it’s called courage.
And finally, you’ve got to…
=> 3. Know when to let go of your troubles.
Mind you, I said “let go” of your troubles. I didn’t say deny, discount or dismiss your troubles.
In other words, it takes courage AND persistence to hang in there … to keep on working your way through your troubles. But it also takes courage AND wisdom to know when to let go of your troubles.
The story of “The Small Tree” makes that point. As Mr. P. says, he hired a plumber but got a lot more than some fixed plumbing in return.
As Mr. P. says, on the first day of work, the plumber was an hour late due to a flat tire. Then the plumber’s drill stopped working, and his truck wouldn’t start. So Mr. P. drove the plumber home, who sat in stony silence the entire way.
When they arrived at the plumber’s house, the plumber invited Mr. P. to meet his family. But as they walked toward the front door, the plumber paused briefly at a small tree, touching the tips of the branches with both hands.
When he opened the door, the plumber underwent an amazing transformation. His tanned face was wreathed in smiles, and he hugged his two small children and gave his wife a kiss.
Afterward, he walked Mr. P. to the car. They passed the tree, and Mr. P’s curiosity got the better of him, so he asked the plumber about what he had seen him do earlier with the tree.
“Oh, that’s my trouble tree,” he replied. “I know I can’t help having troubles on the job, but one thing’s for sure: those troubles don’t belong in the house with my wife and the children. So I just hang them up on the tree every night when I come home and ask the Almighty to take care of them. Then in the morning I pick them up again.”
“Funny thing is,” he smiled, “when I come out in the morning to pick ’em up, there aren’t nearly as many as I remember hanging up the night before.”
He’s right. As Kenny Rogers used to sing, “You’ve got to know when to hold them, and you’ve got to know when to fold them.” Like the plumber, you’ve got to have the courage to face your troubles, and you’ve got to have the wisdom to let go of your troubles. You’ve got to know there’s always a right time and right place and right way to disengage from your troubles … at least for the time being.