Eric Greitens tells of a man he once knew, who was the coach for one of the heavy-weight boxing champions of the world. This coach received a call one day from the champion, who was in an anxious state and asking for a favour. He said there was a man in the other room and he needed the coach to talk to that man on the phone. The coach was confused, until it emerged that the other person was the boxer's gardener, who was overcharging for his services. The coach suddenly realised that this heavyweight boxing champion of the world was afraid to confront the gardener on his own.
The coach explained to Greitens that this is common, that for all their physical courage, yet many champions can be fearful in other contexts, for example everyday social situations or emotional confrontations. As Greitens puts it, “everybody has uneven courage.”
Most of us are naturally courageous in certain areas but not others.
So it is important to recognise: your worst moments do not define you at your best.
You may be ashamed of how fearfully you responded in some situations, but perhaps you are quite courageous in others? I live an active lifestyle - motorcycling, adventuring, fixing that gas fault myself - and it seems in recent years that every twelve months I take a trip in an ambulance. I look with self-respect on how I have handled some of those situations, and with embarrassment on others. Our courage is uneven. Our strength is uneven. Our resilience is uneven.
Greitens writes, “We all have pain we’ve mastered and pain we’ve run from."
He adds, "We also all have a choice to make: stop running and build a new kind of courage.”
We can build courage through practice. There will be areas of neglect, and we will always be far from perfect. It is important to recognise this about ourselves, so that we can see ourselves clearly, can know what to work on, are humble, and don’t waste time beating ourselves up.
If you have strengths, build them. If you have weaknesses, work on them. But wallowing in shame at your uneven courage is a waste of time. It traps you in the past, a place which you can do nothing about. Focus on what is in your control: look to the future and get to work.