Looking Back For Forward Courage

Back in the 90s, and even today, when setting goals senior executives retread the same advice, “Begin with the end in mind!” It helps that they are grounding their advice on sound management principles, first proffered by Dr. Stephen Covey in his über-selling book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

But setting goals takes more than looking forward. It takes looking back. This is especially true when making personal goals that involve courage. Before beginning with the end in mind, it often helps to begin with the beginning in mind. Indeed, begin before the beginning.

When facing situations that require heavy doses of courage, one useful exercise is to think back to all of the people who have come before you that faced similar situations.

Often the best advice about how to move forward can come from dead people.

Yes, dead people! How? Answers often come by reflecting intensely on the advice that they would likely give you as you face your courage-challenging situation today.

I remember, for example, when I was deeply unhappy in a comfortable but spirit-squelching job. I longed to go out on my own and start my own business, but I had zero confidence. The risk of falling flat on my face, and suffering through all of the humiliation that would come with that failure, was just too high. At the same time, every day as I trudged to work, my soul felt like it was choking. Then a friend casually said something that got me thinking, “Well, it’s not like you’d be the first person to ever start a business.”

Offhandedly, my friend had jostled my head backward. I started thinking, “Who do I know that started a business?” The answer was obvious and very close to home. My granddad had started and owned a successful gas station in Pelham, NY. I have vivid memories of him dressed in his coveralls sorting receipts with his grease-stained hands. His Esso station thrived, and grandpa worked there right up until he retired and sold the business. It helped that the station was at a popular intersection on Pelham road. In fact, the station is still there, though now it’s an Exxon station.

My dead grandfather, and the business he took the risk to start, became a source of courage for me as I grappled with the decision as to whether to leave my high-paying but stifling job and strike out on my own. I kept thinking, “What advice would grandpa give me if he were alive today?” I knew in my heart that he would tell me to go for it.

So I did. And, because grandpa made the decision for me, it was one of the smartest decisions I never made.

How about you? What challenging situation are you facing today that is provoking your courage? Instead of looking forward, how might looking “before the beginning” help you progress? What advice would you likely get from the people you admire who are dead and buried?


Courageous Leadership

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