The Gift of Courage
Risking for What
By Kathryn Rea Smith, PH.D.
The theme of this edition of the Knoxville Parent magazine is “Gifts that last a lifetime.” I asked my younger son to recommend an idea for my article. He suggested “You should write about the gift of courage.” That sounded interesting, so I inquired further. He added “You need to have the courage to try things. If you try for something, you might not get it, and you’ll be disappointed. But if you don’t try, you’ll never have a chance of getting what you want.”
For my son, courage involves challenging himself and risking failure in order to get what he desires.
It struck me that my son understands the essence of courage. According to Merriam-Webster, courage is “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty.” For my son, courage involves challenging himself and risking failure in order to get what he desires. It’s about wanting something, such as a spot on a team or a part in a play and going for it with full awareness that he might not get what he wants. He might fail. He might feel sadness, disappointment, and self-doubt. He knows the risks, but chooses to try anyway. That’s courage.
My older son also knows about courage. Recently, he auditioned for a spot in a band. He tried out for the same band last year. Although he worked hard last year to prepare, the information he had was incorrect; consequently, he played the wrong scales. During the audition, he was aware he was not doing well, and was not surprised to find out he did not make the cut. Afterwards, we discussed his disappointment, but also talked about the things he learned from the experience that would help him the next time, should he choose to audition again. As I watched him prepare for this year’s audition, I could see that the previous year’s failure was never far from his mind. As the day of the event drew near, his anxiety became more pronounced. I reminded him to do his best and let go of the results. I told him I was proud of him regardless, and that I admired his courage to show up and try again.
When I am faced with a difficult task at which I might fail, I draw strength and inspiration from my children’s displays of courage. One of the difficult things I do in my work is to testify in court as an expert witness. Testifying is not a high-frequency activity (thank goodness), but I dread doing it each time. The stakes are very high. The direct examination is hard enough, but then I have to endure the cross examination in which the attorney’s objective is to make me appear incompetent. It’s enough to leave me shaking in my shoes.
When I was required to testify recently, I did everything I could to prepare for the testimony. Nonetheless, I battled nervousness as I waited to be called to the witness stand. My thoughts turned to my son and his band audition. I told myself that if he had the courage to do something, knowing he might fail, then I could do the same. I would try to do my best and let go of the outcome. Reflecting on my son’s experience helped me to calm down and do the job. Afterwards, I told my son that I had taken courage from him, and I could tell he felt touched by my admission.
We have since learned that my son made the band this year. We are so happy for him, especially given his experience the prior year. For my son and for me as well, when we have shown courage to risk failure, our successes are that much sweeter.