Last week I started to explain my COURAGE acronym, with C for Calling. Here we go with O…
Surprise yourself every day with your own courage
I had never regarded myself as a leader, or a campaigner, or an adventurer. I didn’t think I was particularly imaginative or creative.
But when I committed to this project, all kinds of amazing inner resources started to emerge. I love the Denholm Elliott quote: “Surprise yourself every day with your own courage”, and that’s absolutely what I was doing at this stage. Although I was often terrified and overwhelmed, I was unstoppable. My passionate concern for the environment started to explode all my self-limiting beliefs.
And the difference came about because I took OWNERSHIP. I took on that project like my life depended on it – and in fact it did, in two ways.
Throughout the ocean rowing years, there were always two main drivers in play. One was the personal journey – having given up the “perfect” life, I desperately needed to make this new direction come good, not so much to impress others, but because somewhere deep down, below the crippling lack of self-esteem, I just knew that I had something special and unique to offer. The fantasy obituary had reminded me of that, and I refused to give up on that dream. I knew I had to get to the end of my life with no regrets about the path not taken.
And the second driver was the environmental one. A book I’d read during this formative stage was Ishmael, by Daniel Quinn, published in 1992, which essentially suggests that the story that human beings have created for ourselves – that we are the pinnacle of biological evolution and have a god-given right to plunder and exploit and poison the Earth as we see fit – is going to have catastrophic consequences, not just for the Earth, but for us humans.
Until that point I really hadn’t paid much attention to environmental issues, but now it became personal. I realised that during my materialistic years I had been part of the problem, and now I wanted to make amends, and be part of the solution.
From Stress & Sadness to Energy & Passion
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by our environmental challenges – they seem so huge and so intractable, and it’s tempting to deny their existence, or to think that they’re Not My Problem, and it’s up to the governments or corporations to be take responsibility.
But for whatever reason I wasn’t able to do that. I simply had to do whatever I could, no matter how insignificant, to make a difference.
And here’s what I noticed. During the time when I knew about the problem, but didn’t know what to do about it, I felt incredibly stressed and sad. As far as I could see, we were going to hell in a handbasket, and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. But when I found something that I could do, something that gave me a sense of agency, my stress and sadness turned into energy and passion.
There’s a more general principle here, that when we have more control, we feel less stress. This is backed up by a study at Harvard that tested stress levels in leaders and non-leaders. They got the managers and the managed to drool into a test tube, and tested the saliva for cortisol, the chronic stress hormone. They found that cortisol levels were 27% lower in the leaders than in the non-leaders. Many companies now look for ways that they can give non-leaders a greater sense of control – of their working environment, of strategic decisions, and so on – in order to reduce stress levels and avoid burnout.
So if you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed, paradoxically maybe you should be taking on more ownership, rather than less.
The power to make a difference – your choice
And if there is a global issue of poverty or injustice or human rights that really bothers you, don’t just get sad, get mad – it’s very empowering. The difference between you and Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela or Mother Teresa is only this: that they saw something wrong with the world and decided to do what they could to put it right.
Take it from me – you really can surprise yourself with your own courage. With the right motivation, you will find you are capable of so much more than you ever dreamed. It is one of the best feelings in the world, to find something that really matters to you and commit to making a difference. It will take your life to an entirely new level of excitement, fulfilment, and personal power.
The power to make a difference is not given, it is chosen. Why don’t you choose it for yourself right now?
If you’d like to find your inner courage, remember that I’m here to help. Please contact me using my contact form if you’d like to have a chat about how to tap into your courage and make a difference in the world.