How do you define courage?

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines courage as: ”mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.”

Perhaps what first comes to mind for many, is courage in the sense of doing something wild and dangerous, such as white water rafting, wrestling with alligators, swimming around the UK, or climbing a high mountain. Yes, it is true, you do need a lot of courage to do those things. But you also need attitude, motivation, persistence, and often quite a bit of luck!

For instance, mountaineering expeditions are renowned for their extraordinary physical and mental hardships. Two years ago my friend Magnus realised his dream and went to climb Mt Everest, the world’s highest mountain.

After 7 weeks on the mountain, Magnus started his summit attempt. He left High Camp late in the evening and pushing his limits faced many gruelling hours of steep climbing, freezing temperatures, thirst and fatigue.

After dawn he was 150m from the summit, weary and exhausted. The summit that he had been dreaming of and preparing for, for years, was finally near. He knew that reaching the summit would require a superhuman effort, and that it would take at least another two hours. It was still possible, and he badly wanted to get to it.
For some reason, he came to think of a quote by renowned mountaineer Ed Viesturs: ”Getting to the summit is optional, but getting down is mandatory.”
Magnus pushed his ego aside and made one of the most difficult decisions of his life – he turned back.

Another climber was in a similar situation, and decided to continue all the way to the summit. Three hours later he finally collapsed at the summit. Death was knocking on his door. To his incredible luck there were some sherpas (professional Nepalese climbing guides) at the summit, who by risking their lives and through an extraordinary effort managed to help him down to safety.

Magnus returned to Base Camp, tired and disappointed. But most importantly – he was still alive, had not lost any fingers or toes to frostbite, and would be able to plan his next adventure. The other climber was not so lucky. Several fingers and many of his toes had to be amputated. He will not climb again.

Who had more courage? The climber who had to be rescued, or the one who said ”No”, and turned around at an arm’s length from fulfilling his dream?

Every day we face situations where it takes courage to say ”No”. How many of us aren’t struggling at the office, where the mountain of work never seems to decrease? Then one day you will be sitting at the doctor’s office with a burnout diagnosis and a long sick leave ahead. I know, it happened to me. I did not have enough courage to say no.

For me it eventually led to one of the most courageous decisions I have ever made – I resigned to start working as an entrepreneur. A decision I am still very happy about.

These are of course extreme examples. Not many are interested in taking big risks in their lives. Still we easily forget that we are all courageous. Courage takes on many forms, and we can be courageous every day. It takes courage to apologise, to say that you love someone, to admit you’re wrong, to admit you made a mistake, to ask for help, to cry.

So we all have courage, perhaps more than we thought. Though it doesn’t come by itself, it needs to be practiced. Why don’t you start practicing today, by being courageous enough to believe in yourself? Believe that you can do it – whatever it is – and believe in a positive outcome!

As Sir Winston Churchill said: ”Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities . . . because it is the quality which guarantees all others.”

Writer of the article, Kim Nyström is a mountaineer and an inspiring motivational keynote speaker in three languages.