It took courage to tell my parents that I was transferring from the University of Wyoming to an out-of-state college in Arizona. It took courage to pull a loaded weapon from my holster and say these four little words: “FBI. You’re under arrest.” It took courage to retire from 24 years as an FBI agent and start a new career as a writer and artist.
I suspect that you, too, have pulled yourself up by the bootstraps at some point in life and summoned the courage to do something different as you pursued a path into the unknown. That’s a good thing because we will all need to be courageous as we find ourselves at an inflection point in history where our path into the future might feel more like wandering the wilderness than it did Before Covid (B.C.)
I have always loved history and have been fascinated by how people find their courage when the odds are against them. They found ways to land on their feet when confronted with the unknown; and when their circumstances demanded courage if they wanted to succeed in tough times.
Courageous people are defined by tough times. This is when they lean into their inner toughness for the grit they need to move ahead. They choose not to become a victim of their circumstances, no matter how hard it got.
One of the greatest leaders of all time was Genghis Khan. He conquered substantial portions of Central Europe and China to create the largest empire in history.
Born into a nomadic Mongol tribe with the name of Temujin in 1162, he was 12 years old when the tribe killed his father and left the family to die in the harsh Mongolian winter. Temujin became a man that winter as he kept his family alive. The lessons he learned at the age of 12 turned him into the warrior known as Genghis Khan.
The disciplines used by Genghis Khan created a great leader who had mental toughness. He learned how to prepare for the unknown and embrace the unexpected. They are the same disciplines we need today.
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The world of B.C. is different from the one we face today. We like to think we’re “special” and that no one could possibly understand or appreciate the woes we face in today’s world.
Yeah, that thinking is popular amongst the snowflakes who try to sprinkle pixie dust to hide the harsh realities of life. News alert—history is full of changes in the marketplace, workforces with evolving expectations, a shortage of goods, and tense conversations about the future.
Life has always been difficult and the sooner we come to terms with the simple fact that we are not too precious to fail, the better equipped we will be to land on our feet when confronted with the unknown.
Here are 4 effective ways courageous people can succeed in tough times:
1. Courageous People Focus On Clear Goals
Genghis Khan’s father was the leader of his Mongolian tribe but was assassinated by a rival and his family was left to die. Genghis kept both short-term goals (stay alive) and long-term goals (to avenge the death of his father) in mind as he developed the skills necessary to become courageous during those bleak months.
It’s very easy to lose sight of long-term goals when it’s all you can do to keep up with the present. It can feel as though current circumstances are kicking your ass and you have no time, or energy, to focus on anything other than survival.
Left on its own, managing your stress can feel like another part-time job as you organize, re-organize, and split time on your priorities. At times, it will be necessary to put long-term priorities on the back-burner to give you time to throw a noose around the neck of the dragon that threatens your immediate goals.
Remember that goals can shift over time so it’s important to measure progress on a regular basis.
How To Make It Work For You: It takes discipline to remain focused on clear goals. To do so, you will need to make intentional choices as you cast aside activities that don’t contribute to either short or long-term goals. This may mean that you jettison fun stuff that takes up valuable time but doesn’t make a significant contribution. Maybe you can add them later but when you’re in the middle of a shitstorm, be ruthless as you focus on the things important to you.
2. Tie Goals To A Purpose
Genghis Khan had one purpose in life—to seek justice for his father’s death. Even though he amassed the largest empire in history, he never became distracted by a desire for possessions or wealth as he became more powerful.
Long-term life goals need a farther reach than “what I need to do to survive.” Survival is an excellent short-term goal but when we talk about life goals, we’ll want to experience them in terms of our values.
In today’s vacuous and shallow world, values are often centered around ways we can be constantly entertained, a “look at me because I’m so cool” mentality, immediate gratification, and endless selfies on social media.
History has dealt with people with this mindset before; the French Revolution made a sport out of beheading them. Either way, these are the folks who are left behind because they don’t have the courage to take a hard, honest look at themselves. It’s much easier to be honest with other people than to be honest with ourselves.
It takes courage to be authentic in a world where everyone wants to be someone else. We mold and reshape ourselves to project the image of who we think we should be instead of who we really are. To battle to be authentic is one of the hardest battles a human being can face. However, when we attach ourselves to something that is real and belongs to us, we also discover how our life can be filled with purpose and meaning.
How To Make It Work For You: Courageous people choose good values and live their life with purpose. Psychologists have determined that there are two types of life goals that relate to our wellbeing in different ways:
Intrinsic goals relate to personal growth and helping others. They reflect our desire for self-knowledge and a need for fulfilling relationships.
Extrinsic goals are defined more by our culture and outside circumstances and less on our nature as human beings—examples include social standing, status symbols, wealth, and our appearance.
Experts believe that both goals are important if our life is to have meaning. Align your goals with what you consider important because this will make them more meaningful. When you tie your goals to a purpose, it gives your life meaning.
3. Build Up Endurance
Genghis trained by running up and down a mountain with a mouth full of water as a boy. Over time, he got to where he could return to the starting point and spit the entire mouthful on the ground. This was a triumph that signaled he had developed the aerobic endurance to run up and down mountains breathing only through his nose.
Endurance is the ability to withstand challenges and do something difficult over a sustained period of time. It’s the ability to tolerate the pain as we keep goals in mind and push through tough times. Again, this is much easier if you’re pursuing something of value and meaning.
Many people go to extreme lengths to avoid pain but that is a stupid and immature way to look at life. Courageous people understand that it’s not when we’re at the top of our game that we discover our best self; it’s when we’re pushing ourselves through our darkest hours that our true inner strength emerges. At the same time, we discover who we really are and what we are truly capable of achieving in life.
How To Make It Work For You: Push through your pain to hit your stride. Success is not a matter of chance; it’s a matter of choice. If the goal is important and tied to a purpose, you will endure the pain when times get tough.
4. Stretch Toward Peak Performance
Genghis Khan used archery to conquer his empire. Drawing a bow and arrow from the back of a galloping horse and accurately hitting the target is not easy. Genghis mastered his art by doing two things:
1) He developed the power to heave the thick bow back so he could aim his arrow. The Mongolian bow was covered with so many layers of sinew that it had a pull of approximately 160 pounds.
2) He understood the movements of the horse he was riding. When a horse is galloping, there is a moment when the horse is air-borne and all four hooves are off the ground. In that split-second, as he sat in his saddle and sailed through the air in smooth flight, he could shoot his arrow with enough accuracy to hit the target.
One of the first things I learned as a new agent is that while I was a high performer, that would not be enough to get me through the FBI Academy. I needed to ratchet it up by another gear or so.
It was easy to find my courage during a long run or sitting in front of a TV. It was another thing to sustain that same mindset when confronted with the obstacle in front of me. About this time I reminded myself that the opposite of courage is a wimpy performer filled with timidity and fear. Disgusted with that image of myself, I found ways to move into peak performance.
Genghis Khan honed his skill with the bow and arrow. In the same way, you and I can build our mastery by pushing the boundaries of our skill levels. Experts agree that your grasp should exceed your reach by about 4% if you want to achieve peak performance.
How To Make It Work For You: Diligence requires you to be attentive and persistent as you work your way through your challenge. Remember that you can’t be diligent about everything. You won’t have the time or energy to be constantly pursuing every shiny thing in life that grabs your attention. Prioritize those areas in which you need to be diligent so you can build endurance. Decide which activities will bring you the highest return on investment of your time and energy.