How to Hack Your Courage

UPDATED: May 22, 2024
PUBLISHED: September 29, 2020

I’m afraid of a surprising number of things.

Let me clarify. I’m not afraid of big things: I’ve moved away from home and started a whole new life. Twice. I quit my job and started my own company . . . seventeen years and going strong. I wrote books even when nobody read them. I’ve given birth three times and fought through years of the adoption process to hold my daughter in my arms. When it’s big things, I seem to have no end of courage. But little stuff? I’m actually kind of a weenie.

Skiing, snowboarding, water skis—basically anything involving me going faster than humans were meant to go, while riding on top of some kind of blade? Absolutely not.

I hate public restrooms because I live in fear of someone walking in on me using the toilet.

Snakes are abhorrent.

Big Foot (okay, the idea of Big Foot) is too much for me to handle.

Aliens? I just threw up in my mouth.

I refuse to even glance at a mirror in the dark because I heard about Bloody Mary when I was at a slumber party as a child and am now scarred for life.

How about El Chupacabra? El Cuco? La Llorona?! I grew up in a community with a large Hispanic population, which means I’ve got the childhood fears of two cultures!

Airplane toilet seat somehow suctioning to my body and then sucking my intestines out into the air? Something that’s given me pause more than once.

I’m afraid of many things. Not all of them real, even. I want you to remember all of the things I just listed because we’re going to talk about courage—and the thing you need to really understand about it is that having courage isn’t the same as being fearless. There are so many great things that great people in history have said about courage and fear, but the one that resonates most with me is from Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He said, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” Take that in. Think about that.

In the case of all those tiny little things I tend to be so afraid of, I never seek out anything to override the fear because they’re inconsequential. I don’t go through life worried that the aliens in Signs are going to take me out—not anymore, anyway—so I don’t need to do a ton of work to overcome that particular concern. Big Foot is just folklore. Deep down I know this, so I still go into the woods from time to time. Most snakes aren’t poisonous even if they are disgusting. See what I mean?

But there are plenty of times when our fear can be crippling and it’s usually a result of the reminder of the pain we’ve experienced before. We fear loving again because of the potential to be hurt again. We fear putting ourselves out there because last time we were rejected. Now the pain isn’t only a harsh instance in our past, it’s controlling our actions in the present and our possibility in the future. When we go through something difficult or encounter a big life change it takes courage to move forward in any way. Meaning, in order to move forward you must decide that there is something greater at stake than the way you’re feeling or your fear of feeling pain again.

Did you get that?

You must decide that there is something greater at stake than your fear!

Please note that I didn’t say, You will realize in time that something . . . No. I said you must decide. You mustmake a choice to go forward in faith, not in fear. And notonly that, but you’re going to have to choose again and again, especially on the hard days.

If you’re struggling to find courage it isn’t because you aren’t brave—it’s simply that you haven’t identified something as more important than your fear. In a hard season, fear looms large because fear is a cousin to grief. Fear keeps you stuck in your grief too. It keeps you in the loop of remembering what happened, who you lost, who betrayed you or who you hurt. It keeps you in suspended animation at the point in which the life you had blew up and became unrecognizable to you. Fear might even be comfortable. It takes courage to get uncomfortable, especially when you’ve already endured a type of pain that rocked you to your core.

You may not yet have found the thing that is more important than your fear . . . but you might also, deep down, believe that there’s a safety net.

You’re never going to find the courage or the strength to push past your fear if it isn’t absolutely necessary. Change is hard and by definition, in order for courage to exist, you have to be working against something that scares you. I know it seems like a heavy lift to face fear in times of grief. Neither of those decisions are easy to make and so, if you don’t have to and/or if something isn’t more important, you will stay exactly as you are. But with courage, and only with courage, will you see all your life can be, even after your loss.

Things That Helped Me

Know That You Can Figure It Out:

If there’s one reason for why I’m able to have courage so often, it’s intrinsically tied to my growth mindset. I believe that even when I get it wrong, I learn something about how to do it right and I am less afraid. I never assume I have all of the answers and so there isn’t any pressure to do things perfectly.

Study the Courageous:

It’s so much easier to do something if you can read stories about others who have done it before you. When I’m trying to find courage as an entrepreneur, I read books written by other entrepreneurs. When I’m trying to learn to be a better parent, I read books written by the kinds of parents I admire.

Face Your Fear Already!:

Look, the longer you hesitate the bigger the fear becomes and the more the anxiety can take hold. I recommend you grab your favorite notebook and write down what scares you in black and white: The thing I am afraid of most right now is . . . And then fill in the blank. Have the courage to be brutally honest with yourself.

From DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING: Putting Life Back Together When Your World Falls Apart by Rachel Hollis. Copyright © 2020 Rachel Hollis. Reprinted by permission of Dey Street Books, an imprint of William Morrow (HarperCollins Publishers).

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Photo courtesy of Rachel Hollis

Rachel Hollis laid the foundation for her lifestyle brand and media company with the same unfiltered honesty and staunch inclusivity that made her a two-time #1 New York Times best-selling author. Rachel connects with a highly engaged and growing global audience of women who treasure her transparency and optimism. She is one of the most sought-after motivational speakers, plays host to one of today’s top business podcasts, and is a proud mama of four who uses her platform to empower and embolden women around the world. Rachel calls Texas home; more specifically the Hill Country just outside of Austin.