Courage is about doing
“Courage is about doing what you’re afraid to do. There can be no courage unless you’re scared.” — Eddie Rickenbacker
“Rickenbacker had learned to manage fear. It was one of the main reasons for his success…Eddie had acclimated himself to that great numbing terror of flying into a fray where it was nearly certain someone would be killed.” — Winston Groom
By any standard, “Captain Eddie” was an astounding man. I grew up hearing about him because I grew up surrounded by pilots, and also because he was a founder and leader of Eastern Air Lines, the company that employed my father and provided a wonderful life for our family for over 30 years.
The more one learns about Rickenbacker’s life and accomplishments, the more interesting the quote above becomes. If any man could claim to be fearless, he could. In fact, more than once he survived traumas that resulted in his being officially pronounced dead by the media. In the context of the bold and often heroic manner in which he lived his life, his admission of fear sounds overly humble.
But maybe fear has been given a bad name. In our anxiety-riddled age, when medications are commonly prescribed to treat phobias and lesser conditions, it might seem that fear is something to prevent rather than overcome. In some cases, I’m sure that must be true; unreasonable or paralyzing fear can hold us back, and ironically, can make us less safe if we are overwhelmed by it.
However, fear can be an asset if we use it as a motivation to act cautiously, recognizing the risks but moving forward when the stakes are high and there is much to gain. Undoubtedly, some of history’s greatest acts of valor came from ordinary people who knew what they were up against and felt very afraid, but pressed on anyway. Some of these heroic stories we know about; many we never will.
We might assume courage comes more easily to others than it does to us. Perhaps we think ourselves less strong or capable if we feel afraid, but courage feels much different on the inside than it appears on the outside. When I read quotes such as the one above, coming from a man whose personal biography reads like a barely-believable adventure novel, I realize that everybody is afraid sometimes, and that’s okay, maybe even good. What matters most is being able to do what we need to do, despite our fears.
Today, if there is anything worrying or frightening you, remember what Captain Eddie said. Courage is a good thing, and without fear, there is no courage.
One year ago today: