So now we get to the heart of the matter: how to find your own courage. I’m using my story as an example of how someone can go from coward to courageous, but the template I’m going to set out here has an infinite number of variations and possibilities.
In true management-consultant style, the template has an acronym. The 7 steps to courage conveniently form the word…. wait for it…. drum roll….. you’ll never guess this one….. COURAGE.
And C is for CALLING.
The word “calling” might sound a bit spiritual for some people, but when it happened to me, it was so unexpected that it really did feel as if it had come from some place outside of myself. I can still remember the exact moment.
The Lightbulb Moment
Since I’d stepped off the career treadmill, I’d let go of a lot of things – just about all of them, in fact. I’d left my job, my marriage had ended, I’d moved out of the marital home, my sports car had been stolen. I’d used the insurance money to buy a camper van, and I was living in the back of it.
I’d also had my first adventure – three months backpacking around Peru – and written my first book (so far unpublished, but I’m dusting it off at the moment, so it may yet see the light of day). That trip had led to an environmental awakening of sorts, as I’d spent a lot of time with Peruvian Indians, who, like so many indigenous people, believe that there is a sacred relationship between humans and Earth, and that we anger the Earth goddess, Pachamama, at our peril.
I’d spent a month in a cottage in Ireland, pretending to be Henry David Thoreau on Walden Pond, going for long walks and reading books on philosophy and religion and writing in my journal.
I felt like I was figuring out a few things about life, but I was like a carpenter with a toolkit of shiny new tools but no piece of wood to work on. I needed a project. I had no idea what it might be, but I hoped it would involve travel, adventure, and something to do with my newfound green zeal.
It was the summer of 2004, and my father had had a stroke. It would be six weeks between the stroke and his death, and meanwhile my life was on hold. I was up in Yorkshire, spending time with my mother and at the hospital, waiting to see what would happen.
One day I was driving along in my camper van, and my brain was in a relaxed alpha-wave kind of a state, not thinking about anything in particular, when bammm! An idea came out of the blue and hit me like a thunderbolt.
I would row across oceans to raise environmental awareness!
My first thought was, “That’s perfect! That’s exactly what I was looking for!”
My second thought was, “That’s impossible! I’ve never done anything like that in my life!”
I can’t. Or can I?
Sure, I’d rowed at Oxford, but there’s a bit of a difference between rowing with eight other people on a nice flat river, and rowing solo across an ocean.
It was such an outrageously audacious idea that, even though it seemed perfect, I just didn’t see myself as the sort of person who rowed across oceans. Surely I needed to be at least six feet tall and have a big, bushy beard.
So I spent the following week trying to talk myself out of it, but with every passing day I thought of more and more reasons why it was the perfect project. Rather than managing to dispel the dream, I found myself fleshing it out until I had a fully formed vision of what I would do and how I would do it.
I reached the point where I knew I just had to do it, or spend the rest of my life thinking, “if only”.
The “If Only” Test
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the point of no return. When you realise that if you don’t even try something you’ll spend the rest of your life regretting it, you have to go for it.
And so I did. I made a commitment that I was going to row three oceans, using my adventures as a platform for talking about our environmental challenges.
Step by Step Guide to Finding Your Calling
To break the “Calling” down into its constituent parts, the sequence goes something like this:
1. Dissatisfaction with status quo
2. Loosening of self-limiting beliefs, comfort zone beginning to expand.
3. Emergence of a question, e.g. What is my work here? How can I help?
4. Simply holding the question. Not trying to answer it, not engaging brain to try and find a solution. Just hold it.
5. Wait for answer. (This step can take a while. But you can’t rush it. It happens when it’s good and ready, and not a moment before.)
6. Answer arrives.
7. Be very surprised by the answer (probably because it’s better than anything you could have thought of by using brain-centred logic).
8. Think “I can’t”.
9. Consider “But what if I could?” Start making a list, breaking the huge task down into tiny tasks. Think about how it fits with your goals and values. Imagine how it would feel to make the dream come true.
10. Realise that you’re going to have to at least give it a shot, or you’ll be forever disappointed with yourself. Surrender to the inevitable and commit to making it happen.
There you go, simple as that.
Of course, this is just my experience. But it has happened more than once in my life, with some variations. And I don’t think it’s unique.
What do you think? Have you heard a calling? How did you hear it? What did you do? I’d love to hear from you!
I’m planning to write a book about courage, so you could even find yourself getting featured!