I remember once walking off stage in Kiev where I had spoken in some detail about the necessity of courage when attempting to succeed. Someone approached me and asked whether I thought courage could be learned or whether you have to be born with it.
That is a good question.
My short answer was: “I think the challenge is less about learning courage and more about addressing the fears that create obstacles to what we desire to achieve.”
Here is my longer answer:
Around 2500 years ago the Orphics had one of the first recognised religions to support the concept of personal heaven and hell. Damnation, redemption and salvation. Within.
Unlike earlier Greek religions that suggested a wide gulf between humans and Gods, the Orphics considered any believer to be able to find Godliness within their soul. Homer’s humanised Gods, in contrast, were absolutely unattainable.
The Orphics said bodies were “the tomb of the soul” which successively imprisoned the soul through numerous birth cycles until final purification. It was thought that when a soul achieved full redemption it could dwell with the Gods evermore. Incurable souls were condemned to lie in the “Slough” forever.
As it happens, I’ve visited Slough in the South of England and I can confirm it’s a truly horrible place.
Anyway, despite the scarcity of historical evidence, (a few gold plates with writing on, buried in Italy and Crete with the remains of believers), Orphicism had a significant effect on all subsequent religions, including those that seem furthest removed from it.
Those enjoyable dinner party guests who have studied c.5th century B.C. enlightenment will confirm the main point being from Hippocrates in his treatise entitled ‘On Airs, Waters and Places’*: “Nothing is more divine or more human than anything else, but all things are alike and all divine.”
When I meet people around the world I sometimes drop in a few questions that tell me a great deal about them. These questions are exactly the same as I ask myself daily:
“What do you truly believe in?”
“Why do you do what you do?”
“What would you actually like to do?”
“What stops you from doing what you wish?”
It would seem these questions are about careers but actually they are about courage.
I like finding out what obstacles people perceive and whether they are capable of overcoming their fears to remove the obstacles in the way of success. You can tell a lot about people from whether they feel they are achieving what they desire.
Dan Gardner writes in the book ‘Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear’** that our level of perceived risk is inversely proportional to our level of knowledge. In other words, when we know less about something our perceived risk is greater than when we know more.
The logic is that understanding means we can be rational and properly assess whether it is actually valid to be afraid of something. Unfortunately though, some of our deepest fears are irrational and not necessarily addressed with increased knowledge.
For instance, I recently had to hold the hand of a 60-year-old Turkish man on a flight to Istanbul because he was petrified of flying. Or at least that’s what he said… I still have no idea why he wanted his leg rubbed.
When it comes down to it, our fear-based obstacles limit us from achieving our full potential. Whilst one can learn whether the other side of an obstacle is attractive and safe, the root of our obstacle placement is based on our feeling of security.
The popular quote “feel the fear and do it anyway” is essentially a summary of the need to feel comfortable with the feeling of insecurity. This is not to say that feeling insecure is good. This is to say that feeling at ease with a lower level of security often opens the door to higher achievement.
I have found this to be true.
In my life I have felt extremely secure and extremely insecure at different times. Oddly, the most insecure I have felt was when I had the most traditional security. For example, when I had a ‘proper’ job, I always felt at high risk of everything being removed by a faceless board of directors. As I am monumentally unemployable this was a realistic fear to have.
Personally I have no real idea of what my life will look like in 12 months and I embrace that feeling. This is because, ultimately, I have belief.
I believe in what I am doing to such an extent that nothing seems impossible. I am far beyond driven.
I have an extreme focus on what it is I would like to achieve and I am pretty sure I know how to get there.
If the road map is wrong, that’s fine too. In fact if my aspirations change I will then have extreme focus on the new set.
As I have an ‘open-arms’ approach to changes in circumstance I am not remotely concerned if circumstances change.
Just as the Orphics said that (literally) every body contained the access path to divinity, I believe that (literally) every body contains the access path to achieving whatever is desired.
This is how I live, accountable and in control of my destiny.
From being given up at birth to experiencing times of hardship, loss, and constraint, I am living testament to the fact that anything you commit to and focus on is achievable.
Whilst the others wait to receive what they think they deserve, you have the absolute power to go out and get what it is you believe in.
It is within.
Taken as an excerpt from ’28 Thoughts On Digital Revolution’ available from Amazon as a paperback and for kindle: http://jonathanmacdonald.com/books/
* On Airs, Waters and Places by Hippocrates (400 B.C.E) http://classics.mit.edu/Hippocrates/airwatpl.html
** Risk by Dan Gardner (2008) http://www.amazon.com/Risk-The-Science-Politics-Fear/dp/1905264151