Practicing Courage Every Day


"You can't test courage cautiously, so I ran hard and waved my arms hard, happy."Annie Dillard

I worked my way through college by giving summer swim lessons.  I loved this job because not only did I have a fabulous tan (note my wrinkles now!), but I was able to give kids a skill they would enjoy their entire lives...swimming!

However, things never started off well, especially with the two-year-old kids.

No matter how nice I appeared to be, I was a toddler's biggest nightmare.  I was the meany who forced them to get their faces wet, float on their backs, and jump off the side of pool.

After a day or two of lessons, the crying stopped, and they would slowly get the hang of swimming.  They started to trust me.  However, most kids struggled much longer when it came time to jump into the water by themselves.

I'd ask them to put their toes on the edge of the pool; then I'd say in my best "isn't this fun?" voice - "JUMP!!"  Many times they'd shake their heads, sit down, or turn and walk/run away.  I would quickly leap out of the water and bring them back to the edge of the pool and coax them again and again to jump.

Swimming was scary to these wee ones.  They lacked courage to take the plunge.

I wanted to explain that with enough practice they would become brave.  When they were brave, jumping into water would be SUPER fun and would FAR outweigh the terror of the learning process.

But, alas, a two-year-old child can't understand reasoning of almost any sort, so I'd chase them down and make them practice jumping until they connected "jumping into water" with "good times."  Eventually, they would understand and their daring took them on to all kinds of water escapades!

In a similar way, we have challenges in our lives which require something beyond our usual effort.  We have circumstances requiring guts and moxie.  These challenges may not be matters of life and death; those require Courage with a capital "C"  (or perhaps "B" for Bravery.)  I think of capital "C" Courage as heroic stories from the battlefield or for those who are rescuing people from burning buildings.  In almost any instance, I disqualify myself from having that kind of daring.  Maybe you dismiss yourself from the Courage equation as well.

However, it's inaccurate to dismiss courage from our lives altogether.  In fact, much of what we pursue requires a garden-variety courage that is essential to living a full life.  Think about some of the things in life that require bravery (lowercase "b") or courage:

  • instigating a difficult conversation
  • speaking up with a new idea
  • being vulnerable with a friend
  • giving a presentation
  • saying "I love you"
  • asking for forgiveness
  • going to college
  • launching a product
  • admitting "I don't know"
  • leaving a job
  • creating ANYTHING (a meal, a painting, a blog post!)
  • pursuing a new career
  • sharing your feelings
  • showing mercy or grace
  • meeting someone new
  • going on a first date
  • buying a car/house/gym membership
swim courage
swim courage

All of those situations get our minds racing and our hearts pounding.  To actually DO any of those tasks requires courage.    Like my two-year-old swim students, courage is like a muscle we have to develop and exercise. We have to PRACTICE being brave long before we ever feel brave.

We don't always recognize what hangs in the balance. (Growth.)

We can't grasp if the terror of the process is worth the result in the end. (It is.)

We don't know if the meany who pushes us to "jump in" is trustworthy. (She probably is!)

When we face challenges, we must find the fortitude to stand on the edge of the pool and JUMP!  Seeing kids screw up their faces and jump into a pool is one of the purest images of everyday courage I've ever seen.

When I grow up, I want to be just like them.