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Where's Your Courage?

*photo courtesy of

One of my favorite movies as a child was “The Wizard of Oz.” Although I loved Dorothy and her little red shoes, I could particularly identify with the Cowardly Lion. He was awkward, and because of the way he looked people had an expectation of how he should be. Everyone expected him to courageous; after all, he was “king of the jungle”! I was at least 4-6 inches taller than most of boys and girls in my class, and I wore big glasses. I was definitely awkward and often shied away from doing anything that bought too much direct attention on me, in fear of what others may think. We can see from the story how the Cowardly Lion allowed fear to hold him captive. He physically shrank in the presence of potential danger, and walked around with his tailed tucked and head down. He, nor did I at that time, understand that courage means acting in the presence of fear.

One of the most powerful lessons I learned about courage happened at the end of my first year of graduate school at Virginia Tech. I was called to the Program Chair’s office and informed that I had failed the Ph.D. qualifying exam. I remember thinking, “What? You must be mistaken! This must be a dream!” Well, it wasn’t a dream, and he had not made a mistake. As he went on to tell me the specifics about my performance, the tears began to well up in the corners of my eyes. Before I knew it, I was in a full-on cry. I had never failed anything of this magnitude in my life. The emotions overtook me as I sat in that chair. He reached over, handed me some tissue and closed the door and blinds to let me have my moment. When failure comes, it can shake you, embrace the felling for the moment, but don’t stay there.

The Program Chair went on to tell me my options: (1) opt out of the Ph.D. program and get a Master’s agree, (2) leave, or (3) retake the exam in the Fall and hope to pass. I already had one Master’s degree, so getting a second in the same discipline didn’t really make sense to me. And, leaving – well, that was never an option. I quickly dried my face, got my composure and boldly said, “I will retake it in the Fall and pass.” My sole purpose of being there was to get a Ph.D., so leaving with anything else without exhausting all possible options would have been the true failure. In order to have courage after failure, you must have a vision to move forward, otherwise you’ll quit too soon.

Do you have courage, or are you like the Cowardly Lion looking for some magical fix? There is no elixir to muster up courage when you’re filled with fear wondering if your situation will somehow work itself out. The Cowardly Lion went on a journey to obtain his courage, when it was already inside of him. It just needed to be activated. The test is being able to go forward despite how you feel on the inside. Having courage is about

  • fighting through your fears

  • [endif]trusting in your ability to overcome

  • [endif]staying focused on the big vision

Winston Churchill is quoted saying, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” Don’t fall victim to your fears. It’s time to fight, trust, and focus to bring forward the courage that’s on the inside.

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