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C is for Courage

Excerpt from Pat’s best seller A is for Attitude: An Alphabet for Living.

Life is not for the faint of heart. Most of what is worthwhile, meaningful, and real lies on the other side of your comfort zone. If you’ve been spending a lot of time in your comfort zone – if you’ve got it all arranged and decorated just so – your life is probably in a rut. You owe it to yourself and those who love and depend on you to break out and try something different. That action will take courage, chutzpah, guts, or sheer will. The choice of words is your own and so is the choice of action.

Hold your forefinger and thumb an inch apart. It’s just a small space, but it’s substantial if you fill it with something new and different. In your life, do something with just that much difference as a first step in breaking your routine. For instance, if you are shy in social situations, when you’re at the next social gathering, make a decision to meet three new people and to discover three facts about each of their lives. Or, if you’re timid about speaking up at business meetings, make the commitment to share one piece of pertinent information at each meeting. If you’re afraid to try new things or places, once a week, plan a field trip and sample a new restaurant or visit a different museum.

All the little voluntary changes you make, however inconsequential they may seem, are very significant. Each is an opportunity to face and overcome fear and to deepen your courage. These everyday experiences prepare you to handle those surprise situations that demand a huge leap of faith and a deep reservoir of courage.

It takes courage to make commitments that make a difference, for in making a difference, you are creating a change, and change often frightens many who may try to oppose you at all costs. Meanwhile, those you are taking the time to help might not acknowledge, much less reward, your generosity with undying gratitude.

It takes courage to interact with other people in an authentic way – whether those people are middle-school students or next-door neighbors. It takes real courage to be “up close and personal” with those who are, at first glance, different – particularly if you’re naturally shy like me. One thing that helped me over come my self-consciousness was to think more about other people. I realized that I really wasn’t that different. All people seek some level of acceptance and belonging. All people have fears and shortcomings. All people have a need to forgive and be forgiven. The issue is simply whether, when, and how we will seek to respond individually or collectively to our mutual needs.

Let me give you a quick example.

In Atlanta, I participated in an Adopt-a-School program, wherein I helped to mentor and provide companionship for middle-school students. Once a month, I, along with other volunteers, took the time to painstakingly prepare informative and entertaining workshops that would introduce the children to lifelong learning skills, ranging from academic habits to social etiquette. At first, some of the kids acted out, showed off for each other through rebellious behavior, and tested the limits of all of us volunteers. With fortitude, I remained with others who, courageous in spirit, stuck with the program and kept showing up month after month despite the kids’ ungrateful behavior. We learned that the students had been disappointed by some previous volunteers, who’d provided spotty programming and shown up inconsistently. It took time and courage for my group to stick it out and win the kids’ trust. You see, when you’re working with people of any age, notwithstanding your credentials, the maxim is correct: “People want to know that you care, before they care what you know.” It takes an abundant amount of courage and commitment of time to care and show that you really care.

So buck up, my dear friends. Live each day with courage and conviction. Live as if there is no tomorrow. Meet each challenge with dignity and grace. This is the ultimate demonstration of courage in action. Take heart!


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