Finding courage even when you’re scared

I set out on a six week solo cycle-camping tour across Switzerland and France a couple of years ago after leaving a job in the middle of the biggest recession in a generation.

On a bike heavily laden with clothes, camping and cooking kit I was taking the most mountainous route possible up and down the Alps, Jura Mountains and Vosges Mountains from the Austrian border to Calais in northern France.

My map reading skills were somewhat limited and I’d never planned my own route before. I was a regular cyclist but hadn’t undertaken anything like this. I was daunted.

The only way I could manage the journey was taking it one day at a time and keep my end goal in mind. Every pedal stroke was a pedal stroke closer to Calais.

So, did I make it? I did. Not only that, I was inspired to write a book about my adventures. As I was writing it, I realised the biggest lesson I’d learnt from the trip was to ‘have courage’. I’d had the guts to attempt something I didn’t know I would achieve.

This empowered me to take the next big leap – setting up my own business in the midst of the recession. It was something I’d wanted to do for many years and yet I’d not had the courage to leave the relative security of paid employment.

I’d done well in my career as an accountant, progressing to finance director level but I had to now ask myself how could I use my skills, knowledge and experience along with my enthusiastic personality to run my own business. In just over three years, the business has gone from strength to strength and is now even international.

All of these successes were the consequence of taking a courageous action.

So how can you cultivate courage in your life?

Start with the end in mind

It isn’t easy. Nothing worthwhile ever is. But the prize at the end is worth it. Ask yourself: ‘What will this goal give me?’ Is it better career prospects, a higher salary or an ability to add more value at work?

What do you think achieving this qualification says about you to employers? That you not only have a valuable skillset but also the focus, commitment and determination to see something through. That’s the sort of person I always wanted on my team.

I knew I needed to arrive into Calais on a certain date to catch my transport home. Despite all the challenges along the way, I knew what I needed to achieve and took it one day at a time. Every day I made progress towards that ultimate goal. Stay focused on doing the same.

What’s the worst possible scenario?

Often we’re scared to try something when we think we’ll fail. One of the best ways to deal with this fear of failure is to indulge it. Ask yourself, ‘What’s the worst possible thing that can happen if I fail at this?’ Really think through every outcome and ask yourself how you would manage it if it came to happen.

When you complete this exercise what you’ll likely discover is that actually you do have the tools and resources to handle the worst case scenario, making it a less scary probability.

It’s vital that your ask yourself the opposite question as well: ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen if I don’t take this step?’ Does it mean feeling stuck or feeling unfulfilled? Really investigate the consequences for not doing something. When you compare the two outcomes, you may find that not trying is actually the worst possible scenario.

Courage doesn’t mean fearless

Courage is the willingness to act in spite of fear. Not knowing if you can, should never stop you trying. Some days on the bike, I was literally counting down every tenth of a mile. It helped to just focus on the next tenth and then the next tenth. Before I knew it, I’d done another mile which was another mile closer to my ultimate destination.

You have two options when you experience fear:

Be scared but do it anyway and with time find it to be slightly less terrifying as uncertainty reduces.

or

Be scared, do nothing and still be scared.

Acknowledge your success

Sometimes, stuff happens and this can impede your progress. This is normal. Be kind to yourself. Review the progress you have already made and give yourself a very big, well-deserved pat on the back for this. And then dig deep and have the courage to get back on track to achieving your aim.

On the inevitable tough days on my cycle tour, I would allow myself a shorter day on the bike. I’d look at how far I’d already come on the map which was very motivating.

And I took every ounce of support offered by my friends and family. How can your family, friends or employer better support you? (Note: they’re not telepathic!) Have the courage to let them know how they can help you. My cycle tour was made considerably easier knowing everyone was rooting for me. They will be rooting for you too.

Andi Lonnen is a financial trainer, author and speaker making finance fun for professionals.

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