What Kind of Courage Are You Made of?

Why are we so obsessed with seeing people fall?

From the number of America’s Funniest Home Videos that involve people falling down to the once viral instance of Heather Dorniden falling down in a track meet only to get back up and win, humans are addicted to witnessing struggle.

Most of the time it makes us feel better about ourselves (because at least we didn’t have to suffer the embarrassment) but every now and again, as is the case with Dorniden, it inspires us to do better by ourselves.

In case you haven’t seen the Dorniden video, here it is:

Despite falling down with only 1 lap left to go, Dorniden gets up and puts her entire being toward winning that race.

Now, many things “go viral”. There are even companies (like Upworthy) dedicated to helping content go viral.

So what was it about this video that made it catch viral attention and why is it deserving of that attention?

Courage and persistence.

Our culture acts as a specimen. It presents us with opportunities to examine it (the culture) and interpret our experience within it into our own views and self possibilities.

The culture of sporting events is ripe with opportunities to see courage and persistence, 2 virtues that are so stunning in their active display and so hard to grasp with verbal description.

No one would have blamed Dorniden if she had gotten up and hadn’t pumped as hard as she did to regain the lead and win the race. Falling down in a track meet is reason enough to forfeit persistence.

No one would have blamed her, but the remarkable thing is she got up and pumped harder anyway. That’s courage, although you can tell it was not a calculated kind of courage. Rather, it was instinctual courage that got her up as quickly as she did to go as hard as she needed to.

This video captured my attention because there were so many times where I’d accepted defeat against much smaller odds. That’s a bitter pill to swallow, but it follows that my instinct for courage needs some awareness.

I don’t need to give my courage more awareness so it can be more calculated. I need to give it more awareness so that I see the opportunities when anyone else would have let me give up and I determine for myself that I can go harder.

By increasing our awareness for opportunities where we could work harder, do more, be better...we heighten our instinct for courage.


That’s not to say that just because we see the opportunity we have to display our courage right then and there. As renowned psychotherapist Nathaniel Branden has said, “The first step toward change is awareness.”

After we have the awareness, we now have the opportunity to decide what behavior is most aligned with how we want to handle the opportunity. We may decide that it is better to stay quiet, or we may decide that it is better to speak up. We even may decide that it's good to accept a client's appointment even when we're booked pretty tightly to really assist him or her.

The difference with having awareness is you have the opportunity to make a decision.

And we don’t have to jump right into making the courageous decisions.

We can take our time and just get used to this new opportunity that awareness has given us. Sometimes you’ll decide to act, and sometimes you’ll decide not to act. Many times, deciding not to act is what takes more courage.

As I said above, by increasing our awareness we raise our impulse or instinct to behave with courage. At some point, once you’ve done enough work noticing your opportunities and making the decision whether to act or not, it will all be second nature.

You won’t have to stop and think about what you should do. You’ll be naturally pulled up when you fall down and will feel naturally inclined to run harder to win. Your courage instinct will be well developed.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my role model Maya Angelou recently. She was a remarkable example of courage that she lived out in her words and actions.

She called courage “the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”

She was wonderfully aware of her own opportunities for courage. At a party she once hosted, she overheard one of her guests telling a racist, homophobic joke. She turned off the music, turned up the lights, and -- without a second thought -- got the man’s jacket and asked him to leave.

Courage looks like Heather Dorniden. It looks like Maya Angelou. It can be grandiose or it can be small, but it is only with courage that you can push through to live a life of being true to you.

And that’s what I’d call winning.

Want more business & productivity tips?
Get weekly updates from our blog right to your inbox

* indicates required