In 2008, a movie called The Bucket List was released, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. The two play terminally ill cancer patients who escape from a hospital, setting out to accomplish a list of adventurous things before they kick the bucket. The movie’s premise connects directly to courage. When you become keenly aware of life’s brevity, you become more willing to live it courageously. So what does take to reflect courageous living in your everyday life?
When There’s Nothing Left, There’s Courage
This idea, that the knowledge of your mortality can inspire courageous behavior, was also captured in Tim McGraw’s chart-topping country song “Live Like You Were Dying.” The song tells the story of a man who, after learning he has cancer, starts living in a courageous way. He goes skydiving, mountain climbing, and even bull riding. But he also loves with more depth and forgives with more generosity. What makes the song so powerful is that it is based on McGraw’s own life experiences. The country singer is the son of New York Mets baseball legend Tug McGraw. The song was written just after the elder McGraw died of brain cancer. The singer had taken care of his father during his illness.
So what does all this talk about death and cancer have to do with living courageously? Everything. You and I know that if you knew you had only one more year to live, you would respond to the world very differently than you do today. And that response would be entirely courageous. I’m sure you’d try more things, like traveling to exotic places or learning how to ride a motorcycle. You’d probably make amends to people and open yourself up to trusting them more fully. I’m sure you’d express yourself with less care as to what people think of your opinions. In short, you would behave with more TRY, TRUST, and TELL courage.
The Courage for Life and Career
Now let’s think about how this lesson can extend to the workplace. And yes, if you really did have only a year to live, you’d probably quit your job and move to Tahiti. But, the point I’m trying to make is that personally and professionally it is important to live a life and craft a career, that you can be proud to call your own because someday both will be gone forever.
The life-orienting and potentially courage-inducing fact that you’re going to die someday has to do with accountability. Doing things you can be proud of, saying things you can be proud of, and touching the hearts of others in a way you can be proud of are ultimately ways of demonstrating personal and career accountability. At work and at home, doing courageous things is the best way to honor the life you’ve been blessed with.
All of this relates to how you manage people, too. Your employees are entitled to have a fulfilling career. That’s right, entitled! They bear much of the responsibility for crafting a fulfilling career. But you, as a manager, also bear some responsibility. Helping them to be courageous in the service of the company’s goals is not enough. You have to help them to be courageous in the service of their career goals, too. As a manager, you can do both by holding them accountable to their own potential and providing them with meaningful and courage-inducing challenges. You have to fill them with courage.
What steps can you take today to infuse more courage into your everyday life, both personally and professionally, and leave a lasting positive impact on the people around you?