“The acorn becomes an oak by means of automatic growth; no commitment is necessary. The kitten similarly becomes a cat on the basis of instinct. Nature and being are identical in creatures like them. But a man or woman becomes fully human only by his or her choices and his or her commitment to them. People attain worth and dignity by the multitude of decisions they make from day by day. These decisions require courage.”
“If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself. Also, you will have betrayed your community in failing to make your contribution.” — Rollo May, The Courage to Create
We are humans because we stray beyond nature to decide what to be, and, if we’re truly bold and courageous, perhaps we may even go be it. Just as a tree or a cat are influenced by their environment, determining to a great extent what they become, we too are influenced by the circle we’re rooted in. Yet we have free will and the opportunity to step out of that circle. This is the very nature of being human.
We don’t always get to choose whether we can step out of our circle. Beliefs and courage alone only determine how we react to our environment, not what the outcome is. Persistence and luck have a say in the matter too. Viktor Frankl survived as much because he was lucky as because he courageously chose how to react to the stimulus he was presented with. The universe has a say in everything, but we have an opportunity to improve our odds by rising to meet the best version of ourselves under the circumstances.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Thankfully, most of us will never face the horrors Frankl faced. Instead we face our own demons, relentlessly chipping away at our foundation, eroding confidence and commitment. This betraying of ourselves is the greatest crime of our lifetime, holding us in circles of our own making. Being bold in the pursuit of who we are isn’t an act of defiance, it’s a lifeline.
The thing is, we all hear the call of what to be, even if we don’t always know what that looks like. If there’s one thing I’d tell anyone looking for answers, it’s that a “successful” person doesn’t have all the answers either, they only have momentum. We’re all just figuring things out as we go. We might have a direction, we might even have a plan, but nothing is realized without action and momentum. The lesson? Keep pushing the flywheel. Just make sure it’s the flywheel we want to be pushing, because momentum works for us and against us.
Courage is the urgency of identity, acted upon. There’s nothing more tragic than a person questioning their identity and purpose and holding themselves back from a bold leap. We have an imperative to live as best we can, and contribute our verse. We must summon the courage to step into who we might become, however small a step that might be, and then step further still.