Archive for Courage

Go On Take A Risk

old man on a bike

A 60 year old man came up at the end of a  presentation.  I had been talking about one of the markers of resilient leaders being their  ability to go beyond comfort.  Expecting a conversation about his  leadership, I was surprised when he began by confessing, “I have never learnt to ride a bike”. His colleague over hearing then added, “How do I learn a new sport as a middle aged man, when I know I won’t be any good”.  The answer to both their comments was the same: find a purpose and you will find the courage.  There is an apochryphal story that Albert Einstein learned to ride a bike when he was 80.  The truth of the story is less important than its message.  Learning to ride a bike at 80 cannot have been easy, but if he did so, he did it because he found a reason why riding a bike was now important to him.  It may have been linked to reduced mobility, or it may have been directed by the desire to master a new skill.  Whatever the reason, he had a purpose, and that purpose sustained him through the embarrassment of the failed attempts that were necessary before his body had the physical memory of how to balance on 2 wheels.


What was holding back the rookie tennis player was the belief  that he looked a fool on the tennis court, even though he was a successful businessman.  He was trapped by a sense that he should be good, and therefore he was judging himself harshly for his constant double faults and inability to hit the ball where he wanted to.  His fear of being bad was the very thing that was ensuring he could not be good.  He needed to  replace fear with  purpose.  What else could tennis give him beyond winning?  Once he finds  that purpose: whether it is doing something with his children, enjoying being outdoors, or making new friends, it will be easier to quieten the internal critic and pay curious attention to what he is doing with his racquet.  It is probable that the less he worries about his technique, the better his technique will become.


It is undoubtably harder to expose oneself to failure as one grows older.  No toddler ever judges their attempts to walk as so abysmal that they will give up walking.  They are so directed by the desire to have their first experience of independence that they simply pick themselves up and start again. They are not afraid of failure because they accept it as secondary to achieving a desired end.  As adults we need to accept the value in continuing to expose ourselves to new learning and risk, and define the reason for doing so, more broadly than being the best.

What’s Holding You Back?

maya-angelou-16x9Hearing of Maya Angelou’s death reminded me of a trip to Chicago 20 years ago. As I wandered along a main street, I saw a queue of people outside a bookshop. There was a sense of excitement about the crowd that drew me in. I squeezed through the mass, curious as to what was the attraction and found myself in front of Maya Angelou. I knew of her through “I Know How the Caged Birds Sing”, but what I did not appreciate until I came close to her was the love she generated, by dint of her personality. She was warm and welcoming to those who brought their books up to her. Her voice was loud, and where some book signings often have a sense of hushed reverence, this one had a sense of people united in a relationship with the author. Maya’s laughter rippled through the store, and it was contagious.
What had drawn people in was the knowledge that this woman had faced difficulties that would have crushed many of us, and yet in the words of her poem “And still I rise”. Born into poverty in Missouri, raised by a grandmother after her parents separated, raped at the age of 7 by her mother’s boyfriend, and turned mute for several years by the murder of her rapist by a relative, she emerged as one of the most influential women in American. The woman who spoke at Bill’s Clinton inauguration, who became a Professor of American Studies, who wrote books and appeared in films, who won Grammy awards for her reading of her poems was a woman who used her intellect, humanity and courage to rise beyond the conditions of her beginnings.

Maya Angelou was unique, but she modelled qualities which we can all aspire to. She achieved so much because as she said in her poem On Aging: “My life has been long, and believing that life loves the living of it, I have dared to try many things sometimes trembling, but daring still”.

What holds so many of us back is the fear of that trembling, which prevents the daring. Angelou challenges us to accept the trembling as the price of living a fulfilling life.