At the time this is being published, people across the globe are experiencing fear and anxiety as we face a global pandemic and economic crisis. Each of us respond to and act out our fears differently, which only heightens tension and enhances this already difficult situation. Now more than ever we must find courage in the midst of our fear if we are to overcome the incredible challenges each of us are facing. The below content was not written specifically for the COVD-19 pandemic; however, we could all use a little courage right now...
Do you find yourself in the midst of a chaotic or challenging situation struggling to find the courage to persevere? Have you ever seen a potentially overwhelming threat looming on the horizon and already feel your strength deflating? Are you already so exhausted and depleted after a difficult season of life that you find it daunting just to face the day in front of you?
I’ve been there before...as a leader, a husband, and now as a father. I get it. So do many others around us, even if they don’t openly admit it. So let’s talk about it...
As many of you know, I am a complete and utter super hero junkie. I love the movies. I read the comics as a kid. But most importantly, I just love the characters. Because while they have incredible super powers and do things that none of us could ever imagine, they also struggle with issues that each of us can identify with. This is what makes their stories powerful and relatable in the midst of the space travels, alien invasions, and universe-saving conquests.
My two favorite characters growing up were Superman and The Hulk. But as I get older, the character that I find myself gravitating towards most is Captain America. He’s not the most powerful or flashy character. But I find him increasingly relatable because of his primary super power: Courage.
The older I get, the more I experience life events that require courage.
Whether we are leading a family, a team, or an organization, each of us face situations that push us to our limits and make us question if we are qualified or have what it takes.
My wife and I recently became first time parents through adoption after a precious baby boy joined our family. My wife described the suddenness of this adoption best when she said "its like I found out I was pregnant and gave birth within the same day!" I've heard some men talk about the fear that they experience upon learning they would soon be a father, but I didn't know what that felt like until now. To best care for my family, I made the difficult decision to to step down as executive director of the nonprofit I had served at for the previous 5.5 years and take on the new job of a full time dad. I've never felt so under-qualified and ill-equipped in all my life! Yet, my son doesn't know that. He just needs his daddy. And on numerous occasions I've needed to find courage in the midst of this chaotic and sudden life transition in order to be the daddy he needs.
Courage doesn’t mean we aren’t afraid. Courage at its simplest is taking action in the midst of our fear.
I've taught using this illustration several times at various trainings and seminars. But perhaps the most meaningful response I've observed was from a young boy who had recently lost a parent. I asked for a volunteer to help me talk about courage. He raised his hand and stepped up in front of the mixed group of adults, children, and teens. We both picked up our shields and demonstrated what is like to step into battle in the midst of our fear. While I can't show his face, I wish you could have saw his big smile as he showed off his courage to the entire group.
I often turn to film for inspiration when facing a painful or challenging circumstance. And without a doubt, one of the greatest acts of courage I’ve seen featured in a movie takes place in the movie Avengers: Endgame. And of course it involves Captain America...
Near the end of Avengers: Endgame, Captain America (Cap) is fighting Thanos, the most powerful and evil being in the universe. Cap gives everything he has despite being incredibly overmatched. Thanos overpowers him to the point of utter physical exhaustion. As he’s lying on the ground, Cap is confronted with a choice: lay down and accept his fate, or get back in the fight despite the overwhelming odds against him.
Captain America chooses to get back up. He tightens the strap on what remains of his broken shield to his his visibly injured arm and begins slowly limping towards Thanos. However, he’s now staring down Thanos and his entire army that's been summoned to wipe out the earth’s population. He has no chance, and he knows it. But he still stands up. He finds courage in the midst of chaos.
Maybe you haven’t found yourself facing an entire army of hostile aliens and flying creatures (if you have, could you PLEASE let me know??) But like Captain America, you’ve probably found yourself beat up, exhausted, and in pain all while a looming threat or challenge stares you down and tests every ounce of your courage, resilience, and hope.
Some of you might feel overwhelmed by work responsibilities, where a lack of resources prevent you from solving a problem or meeting a growing need. Or, you could be struggling just to find work and your Thanos is the growing stack of rejection letters from prospective employers.
Maybe you find yourself grieving the death of a loved one or the loss of a family relationship and you’re trying to find the will just to make it to tomorrow. Perhaps you or a loved one has recently been diagnosed with a life changing condition or illness and you can’t make sense of what the next steps look like. Your chaos might be internal, with the pain of loneliness and self hatred so high that finding purpose to move forward seems impossible.
No matter what painful and seemingly insurmountable obstacle lies ahead, the question we all face is similar: How do I find courage to persevere in the midst of the chaos?
Below are four questions inspired by Captain American in Avengers: Endgame that can help you find courage in the midst of the chaos.
1. Who Are You Fighting For?
Captain America was fighting for all his fallen Avengers, all those who were wiped out by ‘the snap’ and each person around the world who has no idea what is about to potentially happen. Who are the people in your life that need you to persevere?
2. What’s At Stake If You Quit?
Thanos states that he will wipe out the entire planet this time and will enjoy doing so because it’s now personal. Despite knowing his odds, Cap fonds the courage to face him because he knows how important it is that Thanos is stopped. What are some of the potential outcomes that may occur if you give up?
3. Is There Anyone Who Can Lend You Their Courage While You Find Yours?
A beat up, bloodied Captain American stands before Thanos and his entire Army. And while his courage led him to this point, there’s no way he isn’t consumed with fear while he looks over the army that is likely to wipe he and the entire planet out. Suddenly, he hears the voice of his best friend, Sam - AKA Falcon. ‘Cap...its me, Sam. On your left’. At that moment, he and a few who are closest to Cap appear. Black Panther subtly nods as if to say “we’ve got you Cap.” Captain America is eventually joined by an entire army, each of whom make themselves available to share his burden. He’s not alone. Who do you know that can provide support and strength as you build your courage. Is there a trusted friend you can lean on? A spouse or close family member? Perhaps this is a time to connect with a professional counselor and/or a pastor or clergy member.
4. What “Weapon” (tools, training, etc.) Do You Need To Get Back In The Fight?
Captain America’s primary weapon, his famous shield, is broken in half during his battle with Thanos. This, along with his courage, was the only thing allowing him to remain in the fight. However, After ‘assembling’ the Avengers, he summons Mjolnir (Thor’s super powered hammer) which gives him the confidence and strength he needs to lead them into battle.
Sometimes we feel afraid because we are in a situation that we are not equipped for. Are there resources or trainings that can help equip you and build your confidence? Or perhaps courage for you means admitting that you are not equipped for your current role and need to ask for help.
I want to point out that answering these four questions does not guarantee an outcome for us. If it did, we wouldn't need courage. Instead, courage is about showing up and taking action in the midst of an unknown outcome. Author and Social Worker Brene Brown talks about this topic often in her various books and in her Netflix special, "A Call To Courage."
Finding courage can’t change your circumstances. But it can help you develop resilience and hope in the midst of your circumstances. Where do you find yourself needing courage? Are you needing to connect with others for support through a tough time? Are there trainings or resources that could build your courage as you lead? You don't have to go about this alone. I would love to hear your thoughts and stories. Contact me through the website or connect with me on Twitter @RickGuttersohn.
BEHIND THE IMAGE
There’s a scripture that I’ve turned to when I feel afraid or overwhelmed in the midst of seemingly insurmountable circumstances.
“Don’t be afraid. Take courage, I am here.” -Matthew 14:27
Jesus speaks these words to a man named Peter, along with his other disciples who are stranded on a boat in the midst of a terrible storm in the dark of night. His first action isn't to make the storm go away. It is to empower them with courage in the midst of the chaos.
Jesus is essentially telling Peter “...on your left.” (I'm not quite sure he walked through a portal though...)
I'm not alone. And that fills me with courage!