A month or so ago, I watched an interview with an impressive and accomplished woman. During the interview, she shared experiences from her personal and professional life and discussed some obstacles she had to overcome to get to where she is today. I was thoroughly impressed with the entire conversation, however, one thought had an indelible impact on me. It was a principle she said had guided her life in a profound way. She expressed the principle in a simple yet powerful phrase, “Choose Courage over Comfort”.

I pondered the phrase all weekend, wondering whether it was applicable in any way to my life. Predictably, I began to evaluate key decisions I had made over the past few years to ascertain whether I was more motivated by courage or whether my natural instincts drove me towards a pursuit of comfort. The result of this brief introspection came as quite a surprise to me. I recalled about a dozen situations in which I believe I acted courageously but also found many more instances where my desire for physical, emotional, or psychological comfort completely overshadowed any inkling to be courageous.

I decided to pursue the topic of courage a little further to truly understand its characteristics and what it demands of those who seek to increase their sphere of influence and change the world. In my pursuit, I remembered a plaque that hung in my family’s dining room as a child. It had a picture of a majestic lion, perhaps the epitome of courage in the animal kingdom. The message on the plaque was unexpected and to my teenage self, a little inspiring. It read:

“The essence of courage is not that your heart should not quake, but that no one else should know it does.”

Source unknown

Growing up, I saw that message more than a thousand times, but in retrospect, I realize I have not always lived up to it. Like many, I have fallen victim to one of the most pervasive myths about courage, which is the idea that courage is the absence of fear. Far from it, courage is the willingness to persevere in the face of fear. It is a fixed determination to beat the odds placed before you and it is usually cultivated within the hearts and minds of those who take deliberate steps forward in defense of what they know to be true. One thing courage is not is comfortable.

So what does it mean to choose courage over comfort? What decisions have you made in your life that were motivated by comfort? What conversations have you avoided, which friends have you forgotten and what feelings have you ignored in your pursuit of comfort? Have you limited your influence for good in your family, neighborhood, church or community because of a desire to be comfortable? Can you name anything worthwhile you have accomplished that came about because of a desire to be comfortable?

I am not suggesting there is something wrong with wanting to be comfortable. What I am suggesting is that comfort is the reward we get after we have persevered courageously through the trials and challenges this life may throw at us. Without courage, comfort dwells in mediocrity. It is through courage that we discover our strengths. It is through trials that we discover our virtue and through perseverance we discover our potential. Hence, seeking comfort at the outset limits the scope of your horizon and turns your focus to only what is necessary to satisfy your selfish desires at the moment.

Through the courageous actions of our forebears, we live today in a world that affords us a level of comfort even nobles of the past could not have dreamed of. We are beneficiaries of a heritage of courage led in many cases by people no more intelligent or privileged than any of us today. On the contrary, those who have left a legacy of courage were ordinary people who chose to stand when all others fled. What made them different was the fact that they were acquainted enough with their convictions to risk paying the ultimate price to stand for what they believed.

Innovation is the fruit of discomfort and societies that have sought comfort over courage have found themselves trapped in the mire of yesterday’s problems. Over time, I have come to know that the best way to be courageous is to come to terms with the worst-case scenario. The reason many of us choose comfort is that we do not take time to fully evaluate what would happen if we chose otherwise. Analyzing the worst-case scenario allows you to understand the consequences of the courageous choice. If you determine you can live with those consequences, then being courageous will always make you happier and more fulfilled in the end.