Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher and scientist declared: “…courage is the first of human virtues because it makes all others possible.”
Going by his proclamation, it seems that courage is the primary driver of any of your actions.
Indeed, you would have had to show courage in the job interview that led to the position you currently hold. You would have needed courage in the first few weeks of dealing with your new job, boss and coworkers.
I am also certain you had to make tremendous effort to muster up the courage to ask your life-partner out on that first date.
You need courage to face each day, and quite frankly, if you lose your ability to act in the face of any threat, both real and perceived, you will never be able to achieve anything of significance.
But what is the relationship between courage and fear?
In his autobiography, ‘Long Walk to Freedom’ Nelson Mandela wrote: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
It seems that the world’s most iconic revolutionary, who survived 27 years of imprisonment to become the President of South Africa, suggests that fear is a necessary ingredient for courage.
Brene Brown, author of the best-selling book ‘Daring Greatly’ which is largely based on her work as a researcher at the University of Houston, advocates that the belief in your own unworthiness drives you to live a fear-based life.
It seems that people are afraid of letting others see who they really are. We all get nervous about potentially exposing ourselves. This means we avoid the one thing that can make us more courageous; vulnerability.
Brown’s work suggests that courage and vulnerability are closely aligned, and the two qualities can greatly improve our lives. She says that to conquer your fears, you need to expose yourself to failure and criticism.
Researchers from Pepperdine University in California published significant research on courage in 2010. They wrote that living in an authentic manner requires you to acknowledge and express your actual feelings, thoughts, and desires. Consequently, this meant acknowledging your fears yet moving forward anyway, because you understand that inaction creates more harm for you.
From research to anecdotal writings to age old philosophy; fear obviously has a place in your life.
The idea, however, is to figure out how fear can be used as a motivational construct, instead of a debilitating factor.
What role does fear play for you?
In a recent group coaching session, I discussed this notion of fear, and how it builds courage, which is an important factor in being successful at work. And I reminded the executives attending my session that fear has a therapeutic, and creative effect in life, and at work.
Fear captures your attention. It teaches you how to feel, each time you confront a similar situation, or even when you think it is about to happen.
This is good because it acts like an early warning system. Once you become aware of this sensation, you need to learn to use fear as a motivator in order to move beyond the situation that is causing it.
For example, this column today, is a milestone for me.
It is my fiftieth column. I started writing weekly in the New Straits Times on August 19, 2016. Each week, I churn out my thoughts on a Tuesday or Wednesday for the Friday edition.
In the first few months of writing, I struggled with anxiety each week. I worried that I would not be able to get my article done in time. I had even more angst about whether my musings were worthy or relevant. So, by Monday, I got uneasy and started to agonize about getting it done.
But as I continued to write, I found that the fretfulness that came on Monday, acted as a catalyst for me start thinking about the structure of that week’s article. It was like an early warning system that kicked in and got me to start writing.
The Monday nervousness also indicated that I needed to begin the creative process. In fact, it was that fear again, that motivated me to take action. It signaled that it was time to start thinking about what had happened to me in the preceding week.
The fear made me reflect on whether I had something significant that had happened to me through my training or coaching sessions. It helped me connect with ideas and to start fashioning my thoughts about my weekly article.
As I created regularity and momentum with my writing, this Monday anxiety, played a healing and creative role for me. I continue to get nervous about my column, but now that fear motivates me to get things done.
Do you know how to leverage on your fear?
SHANKAR R. SANTHIRAM is managing consultant and executive leadership coach at EQTD Consulting. He is also the author of the national bestseller “So, You Want To Get Promoted?”