Courage, Wisdom, and the Small Successes

“It takes courage to show up and become who you really are.” – E.E. Cummings

How many times do we find ourselves in an uncomfortable situation because of a comment, a gesture, an action, or a decision made by someone else, knowing the situation is wrong or even unethical… and we do nothing? Nothing to address our feelings, nothing to help the others involved and most importantly nothing to stand up for our beliefs. We fail to be courageous.

Some people stand up for their beliefs and speak up loud and clear in their personal life but freeze when a critical situation arises at work. Perhaps because we see immediate consequences? Perhaps because we find ourselves balancing our own values against our careers? If I may offer relief to anyone currently struggling with this: Being courageous is not easy, it takes plenty of tries, and sometimes doing so means stepping away.

Daring to speak up can be hard, no matter how confident, extrovert, or knowledgeable you are. In my opinion, being courageous is less of a personality trait and more about the desire to question the status quo, the inherent right to survive and the strong need to call for justice. The journey of becoming a courageous person starts when you practice it consciously.

In past work environments, I found myself in situations when I unavoidably questioned the ethics behind some decisions made. For example, clients would hire the agency I worked for to look for temporary staff for their events. Oftentimes, the communication used to describe the ‘characteristics’ of these people would disparage them as humans. I heard denigrating, racist, and homophobic comments. Even though these expressions were never directly used towards the people concerned, the decision-making behind the hiring was clearly unethical. This sort of behavior might not surprise professionals working in the event industry, but it certainly caused strong discomfort for me. I wanted to say something, but I also doubted that my opinion mattered or could make a difference, and I was young and scared of losing my job, if I were to speak up.

When I started to work at GAIA Insights, I had the opportunity to attend the leadership programs we organize for our clients. And even though I was an ‘accidental observer’ in my role as Program Manager, I became a silent student. I started to notice and question my behaviors and realized I had a strong moral compass that just needed some guidance to develop productive skills and healthy habits. I realized my discomfort with conflict was rooted in my background and my ‘people pleasing attitude’ was not sustainable. I was the one hindering my own personal growth. Most importantly, I realized I and only I was in charge of doing something about that.

Becoming courageous is a personal journey, but I would like to share some tips that helped me on my path:

  1. Start Small: Shift from saying nothing to saying something. It might not change anything on the outside, but saying out loud how you feel will change EVERYTHING inside of you. I realized when I started voicing my own beliefs, desires, or thoughts it meant a whole deal to me. What seemed to be insignificant comments to others, were in fact gigantic steps for me.
  2. Say No: Saying ‘no’ might not necessarily include the word ‘no’. There are different ways to politely decline. For example, it may start with “yes and… let’s look at our priorities” or “that’s great, does that mean we won’t do the other items on the list?” or it may look like “I won’t be available for the next few days, but I am happy to look at it when I am back”. Whatever the context is, there are multiple ways of saying ‘no’ while remaining constructive in the process.
  3. Pause to Act: Sometimes being courageous means dominating our own mind before the automatic response triggered by our brain kicks in. It takes a great deal of courage to face our own beliefs and question them from the point of view of others. By taking the time to understand a challenge before acting on it, we might end up with a resolution before the situation escalates.
  4. Learn When to Walk Away: Occasionally, the most courageous thing to do is to let go. Instead of pushing and trying to enforce things, you might be better off putting them to rest. Perhaps come back when the time is right or simply learn from the experience and do it differently next time. Most importantly, recognize that by walking away you are not failing or ‘giving up’, it might simply not be your quest and you can be at peace with that.
  5. Celebrate Success: Finally, learn to celebrate success and yourself. Be proud of yourself! Especially if you initially struggle to feel that your opinion matters. Once you begin to voice your ideas, acknowledge the achievement and the courage it took to make that change. Appreciate your accomplishment and value each step on the path of becoming a more courageous person.

Welcome to the journey. The good news is that this is a lifelong adventure and each day you have a new opportunity to practice and become better. Ready to get started? Then think of one small thing you can do today that requires courage and do it!

Authored by Katrien Roels, Helping Hand Hero at GAIA Insights