Defining and measuring courage has been a challenge for scientific researchers because it’s a subjective concept. Most definitions posit that fear is a requirement for a person to be courageous.1 However, from an entrepreneurial standpoint, it’s worth expanding our understanding of courage to reflect on our resources and overcome roadblocks that lie ahead.
For this discussion, we will be using a combination of three definitions as proposed by psychologists Christopher Rate, Cynthia Pury and Charles Starkey, where courage is defined as 1) an intentional behaviour, 2) in pursuit of a subjectively perceived worthy and noble goal, and 3) involving subjectively perceived risks to the actor.1
In the context of being a practitioner/entrepreneur, how can we harness the courage to release ourselves from feeling stuck when we’re faced with challenges?
THE ENTREPRENEUR IS A LEADER
It takes courage to be an entrepreneur. This is especially true when we start new with our practice. Some of us may have left well-paid jobs to follow our heart and embark on a journey with an unknown outcome. Facing uncertainty has opened us to vulnerability yet we remain persistent and steadfast.
As entrepreneurs, we are the leaders of our journey. Often, we tread the waters alone or we take the lead in exploring new territory with a team. We hold ourselves responsible for taking risks and making a judgement to move forward and it sometimes ends with failure.
With so many moving parts in our practice – from admin work to building professional relationships, all while attending to our personal needs – where do we start? How do we build the courage to persist?
Aristotle said that courage is the first virtue because it makes all of the other virtues possible.2 Bill Treasurer, the author of Courage Goes to Work, also shared a similar statement and said that most essential business concepts such as leadership, innovation and sales are built on the foundation of courage and here’s why:
- Leaders make difficult and unpopular decisions for the sake of the team.
- To be innovative means a leader has to be prepared to break the status quo to reach new grounds.
- Rejection is part of the sales process and leaders face this head-on.
According to Treasurer, there are three types of courage:
- Courage to TRY – Making the initial attempt and pursuing new ideas
- Courage to TRUST – Relying on others’ capabilities to get the job done
- Courage to SPEAK – Saying what we mean to say and standing by our opinions
A notable lesson from Treasurer’s lecture is: courage can be taught and learned. Everyone can be courageous. It’s a matter of channelling it to be effective entrepreneurs.2
WAYS TO BUILD COURAGE
1. Focus on the opportunity instead of failure. View failure as an opportunity to learn. It’s okay to feel negative emotions if we do not succeed, however, the key is to move forward and itemize what to avoid and which processes to improve. And rather than remaining stuck in a state of discouragement, find the meaning in your failure and add those lessons to your resources.
This is not to say that we should downplay failure because mistakes can sometimes cause serious damage like bankruptcy or a ruined reputation. No one likes to fail but focusing on the possibility of failure takes our attention away from being present.
Which brings us to the next point.
2. Fear of failure can motivate us. One study conducted in the UK and Canada interviewed 65 entrepreneurs who were a mix of established business owners and startup founders and the research was able to identify seven sources related to fear.
- personal financial security
- ability to fund the business
- level of self-esteem
- the potential of the idea or product
- threats to reputation
- the ability to execute the plan
- opportunity costs
Among the identified sources of fear, researchers found out that opportunity costs, personal financial security, or ability to gather funding for the business were all positively associated with an entrepreneur’s persistence in pursuing their goals. Simply put, fears that had to do with finances boosted the participants’ entrepreneurial drive further rather than inhibiting them.
The other four remaining sources of fear were seen to cause negative feelings like demotivation and less proactivity.3 It’s crucial to examine the source of our fear to determine how we can overcome it – so that instead of continuously saying we’re afraid, we take action to resolve our fear.
3. Work your way towards presenting yourself to others.
We are the face of the business. We are the brand. It is our name on the website, business cards, posters, blogs, and all other business assets. This means we are making ourselves available to the public, therefore, open to criticism and unsolicited opinions. This is the bit that scares some of us because we fear judgement because it can feel like a personal attack.
Liina Rukki, a writer and motivational speaker, shared a great point. “If you are afraid of telling your acquaintances what you do, then why should strangers buy from you?”
It can be certainly challenging to be so public about our expertise because we can be apprehensive about self-promotion. We can also experience Imposter Syndrome. Remember that clients and business associates want to get to know you and are genuinely interested in what you have to offer. The journey of a hundred miles starts with a single step and it could start with a 10-minute podcast once a week.
The feedback we get from presenting ourselves is invaluable to our practice and if we perceive it as an opportunity to learn, the only way will be up!
As a business leader and entrepreneur, our journey includes instilling courage inside of others and to practice it in our everyday life. May we always find a fountain of courage to keep moving forward.