I was recently asked by a friend to share a few of my thoughts on ‘courage’ and how it operates as a presence in my life. Truth be told, for me ‘courage’ is an intangible essence that defies definition. I believe it is ever-present and available to us all, yet is only breathed to life when we choose a path forward, one which is not absent of fear, but is in some way governed by faith – A belief that even the most unbearable can be endured when we accept that within every experience, and encapsulated in every moment, is a lesson that reveals something greater lies beyond the scope of each of us.
In no way am I suggesting this broader essence is of the religious or spiritual realm, but simply a faith that there is a current of interconnectedness that runs in and through us all – or in the words of John Muir, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe." And what is ‘courage’ other than the faith to move forward in the midst of fear? As we dig deeper and deeper into the genesis of all our fears, we discover that invariably our fear is driven by our belief that we are alone, disenfranchised, or set adrift in an achingly reverberant hollowness.
As a motivational speaker, I attempt to connect with my audience by returning to places of adversity in my past as touchstones, or catalysts for personal growth. I have come to see the ‘scars’ of my life – borne of trauma and great discomfort – not as blemishes to be hidden away, but rather as evidence of a personal roadmap of how far I’ve traveled in my life. What others often define as ‘courage’ in me, I see as nothing more than a belief that my ‘scars’ do not define me… but rather, they reveal me.
So again, I return to the essence of what it means to be courageous – a deeply rooted faith in our human interconnectedness. I find such comfort in the words of Viktor Frankl: “A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence, and will be able to bear almost any ‘how’.”
Where many of us get lost is in the act of comparing our suffering to that of others, and in the process, we diminish the impact, or resonance it has in our life. And in negating the presence of this suffering, we thereby deny any opportunity to embrace this discomfort as a lesson or opportunity for personal growth.
Our muscles respond to stress by becoming at first strained and later stronger, so too do we build up our tolerance for withstanding adversity by allowing it space in our life. Courage rises to the fore when we adopt a new mindset, a new lens from which we approach our life. I was listening to an interview with John O’Leary, someone who despite a devastating fire that burned 100% of his body, has become a tremendous source of inspiration and hope to many. Given the obstacles that John has had to face in life, he has chosen to embrace a ‘victor’ rather than ‘victim’ mindset. He points out that ‘victims’ tend to ask the same questions: Why me? Why now? Why bother? What can one person possibly do to change this situation?
Yet, O’Leary reminds us if we take those same questions and approach them from a positive mindset – one in which we see adversity as a lesson or an opportunity for growth, we begin to align ourselves with belief in our role in a greater connectedness with our community. “Why me?” becomes what makes me special to carry a message of hope and resiliency? “Why now?” reminds us of the importance of living in the moment. “Why bother… What can one person possibly do to change this situation?” provides, in my opinion the greatest possibility for us all to unearth the courage that lies within. It is a conscious choice to walk towards the bridge that connects us to everyone in our community, and in so doing we step away from the fear of isolation and into a wellspring of hope.
I take a lot of pride in the fact that at one time, I was what you would call a ‘technology maven’ – an early adopter, a pioneer of the virtual world. I was the guy friends would call to program their VCR, teach them how to burn a CD, or explain how to download an iTunes podcast. Yet somewhere along the way, I was left behind, and now cutting edge technology that used to amaze me, simply confounds me.
I hate to admit this, but I’m getting old, and not in a dignified fine ‘aged wine’ kind of way, but more along the lines of your favorite blue jeans that are becoming a little too threadbare and risqué to wear out in public. Speaking of jeans, I long for the good ol’ days when you could walk into a department store and buy a pair of Levis without having to consult a flowchart describing what best suits your ‘fit profile’. Gone are the days where your only decision was “blue jeans” or “black jeans”?
It’s very much like the analogy of placing a frog into a pot of water. Throw it into boiling water, and the frog will jump right back out, but if you put it into warm water and slowly bring the water to a boil, the frog is blissfully ignorant of the imminent danger. And that’s just how the aging process has been for me – it’s as if my night vision literally disintegrated overnight. How about driving at night when it’s raining… Forget about it! Those lines on the road mysteriously vanish.
And then there’s the inevitable stare down in the mirror every morning while I shave. Some days are better than others in that I manage to convince myself that my hairline is not receding, but there is no denying the huge mutant hairs growing out of my ears. I swear those furry ears happen while I’m snoring away – and trying to pull those mutant X-Men hairs out with your fingers… forget about it! Those hairs feel as though they are directly connected to your spinal cord.
I don’t consider myself ‘old’, but then again, I’m not sure if one ever does. Yes, I have more aches and pains than I used to have, and my scars and bruises may fade, but they never really completely go away anymore. I’m still a kid at heart… Who am I trying to convince? Alright, I’m still mischievously immature at heart! At times it feels as though I’m living two parallel lives – and believe me, it's a balancing act that is becoming increasingly more tenuous with each passing year. Take yesterday for instance… In honor of my 50th birthday, I decided to get a tattoo of the ‘Coyote’ on my calf. Now wait, before you judge me, I should add that I already have a tattoo of the ‘Road Runner’ on my other calf that I had done when I turned 40.
I walked into the downtown tattoo parlor feeling ‘hip’ and ‘cool’, and I made sure I peppered lots of ‘dude’ and ‘bro’ into my conversation with the 20-something tattoo artist who was inking me while heavy metal tunes thrashed in the background. I left that tattoo parlor with a youthful bounce in my step… Ok, my calf was killing me… Let’s just call it a ‘youthful hobble’. Walking down the street, I remembered I had to pop into the drugstore to pick up a few things on the way home – one of them being some cover-up cream for the age spots which are beginning to appear with growing frequency all over my face.
Later that evening I reached for this magical cover-up cream packed with retinol and vitamin C, promising to bring a youthful glow as it not only revitalized my skin but also revitalized my life! Another thing I’ve noticed is that the print on packaging appears to be getting increasing smaller and smaller with each year. I reached for my reading glasses so that I could read the instructions for my new-fangled-age-reducing cream, and that is when it hit me – suddenly, I’d become my father.
There is something about turning 50 that is freaking me out. Just do the math, and you’ll be alarmed too. Let’s just say you live to be 80, and that no longer seems all that old to me. 80 years x 365 days = 29,200 days, so that leaves me only 10,950 days, and when you subtract the time you spend sleeping and working, the time crunch really starts to hit home.
I’m trying not to think about it too much because it just leaves me feeling overwhelmed. I should really be doing something more productive with my waning time, but my achy back is killing me right now. I think I’ll just “Netflix and chill”… wait, scrap that.