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Lessons on Cultivating Courage from Maya Angelou

By Ashleigh Hansberger
(Leadership)
Posted on 11/09/22
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The force that is Maya Angelou has long been an inspiration in my life.

Despite traumatic childhood experiences and prejudices born of race, gender, and class, Angelou’s genius in poetry and prose grew from the darkest corner of a segregated 20th-century America. Defying circumstance, she became one of our time’s most visionary thinkers and storytellers.

When I was 19, I read her book, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” which was life-changing. The metaphor of a bird struggling to escape its cage is a central theme. I remember how empowered I felt after flipping those pages. I felt empathetic toward her and the very personal things she had shared. Reading her truth taught me to appreciate and respect my own.

Angelou had this magnificent, sincere, and insightful way about her. She insisted that living a meaningful life and connecting with others boils down to being vulnerable and brave, understanding the angle of your story, and having the courage to tell it. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, what you did, but never forget how you made them feel,” she said.

“‘People will never forget how you made them feel – Maya Angelou.”

If Angelou’s legend can be summed up in one word, I would say it’s just that: courage. “Courage is 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.”

“‘You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.’ – Maya Angelou.”

Pause for a second to think about how profound that truth is.

Courage is something we all want to have. It’s necessary if we want to lead meaningful lives and businesses. Suppose we want to show up in the world in powerful ways if we’re going to reach our potential. Yet sometimes, finding courage feels like a monumental task as we let our doubts and fears get the best of us.

I read a great article recently called “The Six Attributes of Courage” on Psychology Today.

It talks about how from biblical stories to fairy tales, ancient myths to movies, our culture is rich with tales of bravery and self-sacrifice. From the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz who finds the courage to face his fears to little David defeating the mighty giant Goliath to the battle between good and evil in Star Wars and Harry Potter, we’re practically raised on these heroic and inspirational tales.

Courage is the thread in all these great stories. History shows how real courage manifests in social activists like MLK and Mandela, who chose to speak out against injustice at significant personal risk. Entrepreneurs like Jobs and Disney, who took risks to follow their dreams and innovate, are like modern-day knights, exemplifying the rewards and public accolades that courage can bring.

The six types of courage range from physical strength and endurance to mental stamina and creativity. Whatever courage you want to build, I hope the following wisdom will help you cultivate the courage to conquer whatever stands between you and your dreams.

1. Physical Courage – Feeling Fear Yet Choosing to Act

“‘Can a man still be brave if he’s afraid?’ ‘That is the only time a man can be brave.'” ―George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones

“Fear and courage are brothers.” —Proverb.

“I learned courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” —Nelson Mandela.

“No living thing is not afraid when it faces danger. True courage is facing danger when you are afraid.” —L.Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

“Boldness be my friend.” —Shakespeare.

“Being terrified but going ahead and doing what must be done—that’s courage. The one who feels no fear is a fool, and the one who lets fear rule him is a coward.” ―Piers Anthony

“Courage is about doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared. Have the courage to act instead of reacting.” —Oliver Wendell Holmes

2. Emotional Courage – Following Your Heart

“Passion is what drives us crazy, what makes us do extraordinary things, to discover, to challenge ourselves. Passion is and should always be the heart of courage.” ―Midori Komatsu.

“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” —Steve Jobs.

“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. To not dare is to lose oneself.
” —Soren Kierkegaard.

“It takes courage to endure the sharp pains of self-discovery rather than choose to take the dull pain of unconsciousness that would last the rest of our lives.” ―Marianne Williamson.

3. Social Courage – Persevering in the Face of Adversity

“When we are afraid, we ought not to occupy ourselves with endeavoring to prove that there is no danger, but in strengthening ourselves to go on despite the danger.” —Mark Rutherford

“A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Most of our obstacles would melt away if, instead of cowering before them, we should make up our minds to walk boldly through them.” —Orison Swett Marden

“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” —Mark Twain

4. Moral Courage – Standing Up For What Is Right

“You have to be courageous about your instincts and your ideas. Otherwise, you’ll just knuckle under, and things that might have been memorable will be lost.” ―Francis Ford Coppola

“Sometimes standing against evil is more important than defeating it. The greatest heroes stand because it is right to do so, not because they believe they will walk away with their lives. Such selfless courage is a victory in itself.” ―N.D. Wilson, Dandelion Fire

“Speak your mind, even if your voice shakes.” —Maggie Kuhn

“From caring comes courage.” —Lao Tzu

“Anger is the prelude to courage.” —Eric Hoffer

“I don’t want to be remembered as the girl who was shot. I want to be remembered as the girl who stood up.” —Malala Yousafzai

5. Intellectual Courage – Expanding Your Horizons

“You will never do anything in this world without courage. It is the greatest quality of the mind next to honor.” —Aristotle

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he dares to lose sight of the shore.” —Lord Chesterfield

“This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the life of ease.” ―Robert F. Kennedy

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” —Anais Nin

6. Spiritual Courage – The Power in Dignity

“There is no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bear witness that a man has the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.” —Viktor Frankl

“The ideal man bears the accidents of life with dignity and grace, making the best of circumstances.” —Aristotle

“A man of courage is also full of faith.” —Marcus Tullius Cicero

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice and the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'” -Mary Anne Radmacher

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By Ashleigh Hansberger