Winston Churchill said, “Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.” I experienced more failures in my first three months as a full-time caregiver for my parents than I did in 20 years of my marketing career. My enthusiasm waned more often than not until I figured out that my new career choice – being a caregiver – was going to take a boatload more courage than I needed to summon when I interviewed for a job at a magazine, interviewed Tom Selleck for that magazine, or proposed a big PR plan to a senior executive from American Express.
In my book, The Heart Way, the second footprint on the caregiving path is courage. My friend, David Neenan, is a retired businessman and commercial real estate developer in Colorado. Prior to retiring, his hobby was teaching a seminar called “Business & YOU.” He offered a variety of tools to students to help them take responsibility for their lives, personally and professionally. A key tool was courage, and I always liked his definition of the word which was inspired by psychologist Rollo May who wrote The Courage to Create:
COURAGE = COMMITMENT + DOUBT
While researching my book, I learned another definition of courage: “Courage is acting despite your fears.” So I adapted my own equation:
COURAGE = COMMITMENT + DOUBT + ACTION
The most familiar incidents of courage are the ones we see in the news every day – heroic split second decisions where someone rushes into a burning building or jumps into an icy river to save a child. Slightly less publicized but equally impressive are the long term acts of courage in the face of a serious illness like cancer or a debilitating car accident.
Common courage is what most of us summon daily. It’s the courage to walk out of a meeting with an abusive boss, to be happy while confronting a failed relationship, to face the numbers on the scale on the day after vacation ends, to make that series of cold calls, to take the car keys away from your father who shouldn’t be driving, to stand up and speak to a crowd of strangers. Common courage is an important footprint on the journey to care because the journey often requires taking action in spite of our fears, being committed to an outcome while doubting we can achieve it.
Courage usually means taking the hard way rather than the easy way. A friend once told me that in many situations, if one choice is harder than another, the harder one is probably the correct one, and it takes courage to make that difficult choice.
Caring for oneself takes courage. When you care about yourself, you stand up for your ideas and principles. You are ethical and compassionate. You know that, in the words of Buckminster Fuller, “Integrity is the essence of everything successful.” You confront your inner demons, real or imagined. You summon the courage to forgo fast foods for healthy ones and exercise often so your body stays in shape.
I knew I would not have peace of mind for the rest of my life if I didn’t go back to my hometown and take care of my frail parents. As a middle-aged woman, I was terrified of leaving a good, stable job in the corporate world, even for the short-term. My husband was willing to come with me, but we had no idea what he would do for a living. I listened to my heart and simply knew I had to take action. It took great courage to do what we did. The road was paved with depression, pain, anger and betrayals – the worst kind of failures – and yet we pressed on, pulling out the enthusiasm buried deep in our sometimes wounded hearts.
Today we are indeed at peace, two years after the death of my mom, at the end of that family caregiving journey. And we are prepared to be courageous again because we know now that life will present us with a new opportunity to take the heart way to care.
Next footprint along the heart way: AWARENESS