Personal Development

How To Be Courageous Even When You're Afraid

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Adel Termos and his daughter were walking through an outdoor market square in southern Beirut when suddenly, there was a nearby explosion.

It was a bomb that went off, and glass and debris were flying everywhere.

People were panicking and running for their lives, but amidst all the chaos, Termos spotted another suicide bomber who was getting ready to attack. Within moments, Termos tackled the bomber, which caused him to detonate right then and there. This prevented him from reaching his intended target and hundreds of lives were saved as a result.

I imagined myself in the same scenario and immediately I felt only one emotion.


Termos had his daughter right next to him and when he saw that second bomber, he had an impossible choice in front of him:

Run away to save himself and his daughter, or do something about this bomber that no one else was noticing.

Fear was probably creeping up on Termos at this moment, but he decided to be courageous anyway.

I wouldn't have blamed him if he was afraid and his first instinct was to run away to get his daughter to safety, but instead, he decided to sacrifice his own life in order to save many others.

Why is it that we get so inspired by courageous stories like these and how can we learn to cultivate similar courage in our own daily lives?

Courage Has The Amazing Ability to Bring The Best Out Of Yourself.

Fear is like that familiar friend that always comes over to hang around doing nothing and courage is like the much needed personal trainer who pushes you to become your best self.

Courage doesn't care about what people might think of you or how bad you would look if you failed. It's more concerned about fighting for a purpose that's much more greater than just yourself.

When you examine the whole purpose of fear, it's really only most useful when it has to do with your own physical protection. It's a selfish emotion that looks out only for you, which is reasonable if a tiger is running after you and you need run to safety.

I was working at a job that had great pay and great benefits, but deep inside, I felt very unsatisfied and empty. I was living like this because I was afraid. I was afraid to let go of what was good well because it was good. I made the decision to settle for a mediocre life rather than chase after the extraordinary one I've always wanted.

I told myself I should wait until I had more ideal circumstances before ever getting started. It took me a long time, but I finally realized the hard way that when pursuing any worthy dream, fear will always be there and being courageous means to still do something about it anyway.

I've been scared all my life, but when I finally quit my high paying job to pursue my dream of becoming a full-time filmmaker, it changed my life forever.

My wife and I left our lives behind in New York City and we moved to Los Angeles. I vividly remember the moment when our car was all packed for the road and we just finished saying bye to our parents.

We got in the car and as we drove off, the reality hit my wife that we were leaving behind our families, friends, and over 25 years of history on the east coast.

"Hubby?" She called over to me as her face was scrunching up with tears welling up in her eyes. All the feelings of doubt, fear and uncertainty were overtaking her all at once and she started crying.

"I'm going to miss them so much," She told me.

We were scared, but we both knew there was no turning back at this point.

We were still anxious about all the uncertainty ahead of us, but we stepped forward into this journey and it turned out to be one of the best times of our lives.

We saw some of the most beautiful places that took our breath away. We had a lot of time to reflect on what direction we wanted to bring our lives. We stayed up at night and shared about what kind of people we wanted to become.

As we began to have a clearer idea of what was most important to us, it helped us develop the courage to keep pressing forward into the uncertainty together.

The truth is that our finest moments are most likely to occur when we are feeling deeply uncomfortable, unhappy, or unfulfilled. For it is only in such moments, propelled by our discomfort, that we are likely to step out of our ruts and start searching for different ways or truer answers."  M. Scott Peck

When we become deeply reconnected with our purpose, passions, and talents, we begin to fight harder for what matters to us even though we may be scared and find ourselves outside of our comfort zones.

The Most Defining Moments in Your Life Will Be Scary, But it Will be Worth it.

During my time as a full-time filmmaker, I fell upon an amazing discovery. I learned that the same principles involved in creating a great story can actually also be applied to your own personal story in real life to help you become the courageous character you want to be.

Here's what I mean.

Towards the beginning of every great movie, there is a main character who enters into a defining moment where he must make an important choice whether or not to embark on the journey to achieve his ultimate goal.

As an example, let's look at one of my favorite movies, Finding Nemo.

Marlin, a very anxious father, spent all his time sheltering his son, Nemo and is overly concerned with Nemo's safety because in the past, he had lost his wife and other children to a vicious barracuda.

Marlin's biggest fear comes to life when Nemo gets taken away by some fishermen and now he has to decide if he's going to go through the scary depths of the oceans where he's never been to find him.

It's at this exact moment where he is paralyzed by fear, but he chooses courage instead.

Here's the reason why.

When I got into screenwriting, I learned there was one key question that always needed to be answered correctly in order for it to be an amazing story that keeps people at the edges of their seats.

What's at Stake If The Character Doesn't Begin His Journey?

A hero never steps up to the scary journey he has ahead of him unless he clearly knows the important things that are at stake. When the stakes are not high enough, the hero usually gives in to fear and doesn't take any action.

When Nemo was taken away, Marlin didn't all of a sudden have this empowering sense of confidence to go out and search for his son. He was scared out of his mind, but he went anyway because he knew very well what was at stake if he didn't.

Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear"  Franklin D. Roosevelt

So I remember asking myself, "What's at stake if you don't walk past your fear and have the courage to live a life true to yourself?"

This was when the truth dawned on me.

When it comes to your own personal story, your best future is at stake if you don't take action to work towards the life you were meant to live.

I realized my story was boring because I was afraid to face the challenges that were preventing me from achieving a life where I felt fully alive.

When you live your life in fear, you'll find yourself wondering one day how the time went by so fast and question how you've drifted so far from where you wanted to be in your life.

Life is hard, but what makes it worth living is when we learn to step up to the challenges and learn from the experiences. When we focus less on making life easier and more on how we can get stronger, our best story truly begins to unfold.

Not only did Marlin achieve his goal at the end of Finding Nemo, but the journey he took to find him transformed him for the better as a result.

Fear is selfish. Courage is selfless.

I've struggled with a lot of low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety throughout my life, and it took me a long time to embrace the fact that having the courage to be more vulnerable and authentic is what can help create life-changing relationships not just for myself, but for others as well.

My fear of what others will think of me or how I'll be judged often led me to just stay silent and conform to how the majority of people live their lives.

It took me some time to realize, but I began to notice that the majority of people let their fears convince them that they just need to make safe choices for the rest of their lives. They live their lives unfulfilled and I didn't want to be one of them anymore.

I had a co-worker who used to be a pilot and loved flying. He even had a plane he owns sitting at the local airport. He worked as a pharmacy technician for 20 years and was two years away from retirement. He was looking forward to spending his days up in the air, but one day he told me the doctor told him he couldn't fly anymore because he was starting to have issues with his vision.

He looked at me and said "don't wait until retirement to do everything you ever wanted because when you retire, your body won't permit you to do those things anymore"

I've let fear paralyze me for so much of my life and the only thing I had to show for it was regret.

Our stories were never meant to be static. It was always meant to be progressing.

In order to heroically live the amazing life you were meant to live, you need to intimately connect with the things that matter to you enough to take the risks to achieve them.

Termos was aware if he were to make the more selfish choice and run away to try and only protect himself and his daughter, more people might die.

There was something much more important to him despite any fear that might be hitting him at the moment and it's what got him to take the courageous action that he did.

Living a courageous life is not about overcoming your fears because fear will always come. It's about connecting deeply with what matters to you most so you have the resolve to fight for it even though you're scared.

When you do this, your fears don't phase you as much anymore. You may be afraid of failing, but when you do fail, you keep fighting and you use the experience as an opportunity to learn so you can figure out how to achieve your goal.

So what is truly important to you enough that you will take action even though you're afraid?

And what's at stake if you don't?

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About the author

Eugene K Choi

Eugene K. Choi is the founder of Destiny Hacks, a blog and coaching service dedicated to developing a customized action plan for his clients so that they start living out their calling and produce phenomenal results. You can download his free guide. Four Insanely Important Steps to Finding Your Unique Calling, to learn more.