Courage is perhaps the most used word when one intends to lift someone’s spirit; get someone out of these emotions such as despair, fear, anger, frustrations, and all the other negative traits! But what this seven letters word, C-O-U-R-A-G-E really mean? How do you seek it, find it, and keep it?
So, what is courage? The meaning of courage is best defined by the Cambridge English Dictionary as “the ability to control your fear in a dangerous or difficult situation…and is synonymous with brave…courage is to be brave and confident enough to do what you believe in”.
To some, courage comes naturally without putting much effort, to others it takes some time to gather the courage to act upon something!
Certainly, life isn’t designed to be free of challenges or without ups and downs, otherwise, it would have been too monotonous and therefore too boring, too exciting, and or too crazy!
Terry Fallis in his book, The High Road, wrote, “A life without challenge, a life without hardship, a life without purpose, seems pale and pointless. With challenges come perseverance and gumption. With hardship come resilience and resolve. With purpose come strength and understanding”.
Looking back on my life struggles and challenges, and there are many of them-whether drawn from my twenties when I was learning and searching for the world away from the world I grew up and eventually got it and find myself in America; or in my thirties when I got into the parenthood club and real life started getting where it belongs; and then, I entered into my forties thinking I have seeing it all, I have done it all, I have been everywhere and gone nowhere; and no man, nobody, and nothing that would have moved my feet or give me a shiver when I put my thinking cap on and into it-I was courageous, I was brave! And I was determined!
And now, what happened with the time? I’m here really! In my fifties wondering where the time went and where my life had been? Am I living backward instead of forward, otherwise who is in control of my life?
As I analyze life challenges, hardships, or trials and how to overcome them or to try to make sense of it, I am reminded that life is really what you make of it!
You must choose not only how you desire to live your life and therefore how to navigate through it by all possible means you can bestow, but that doesn’t make it easy or guarantee safe landing-that everything is going to be alright!
From my experiences, what makes life challenges more challenging isn’t lack of courage per se to face the challenges but rather the forces that accompany you and the challenges you are facing. Those external factors that you have no control of. And the worse of all, they come from fellow human beings…man destroy lives…the biggest enemy of man is a man!!!
However, I will not fear man for he is not my creator! I will always choose courage to get me through, to overcome my life challenges as possibly can. That is right! You heard it right! But, easy saying than doing, nevertheless, for the sake of my psychological well-being I will always choose courage in place of fear!
The fear only remains or resurface when everyone becomes an expert on how you should or should not live your life, how you should or should not handle and tackle your own challenges. Thus, people’s intentions (good and bad) may add more pressure to you -some may scare you more, and some will confuse you greatly, yet others will doubt and criticize you for not acting on their suggestions or pieces of advice, and on timely manner (as they may detect time too!) …so much so that they sometimes forget that it’s still your life, not theirs, and they know nothing about it so far! We all need time to reflect, to digest all that has been thrown on our lives before we could move and or act.
The most famous and revered former South Africa first black president Nelson Mandela, who also became one of the remarkable heroes of the 20thcentury after fought for his country’s freedom from apartheid regime and endured 27 years of brutal imprisonment yet negotiated and lead his country to a peaceful end of institutionalized racism and truth reconciliation, said these words about courage, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers the fear”.
As you can see, courage does not eliminate fear but it inspires you to be aware and or raise your consciousness to help yourself make decisions and then take actions.
As always, every one of us has certain ways of reacting and responding to our own life challenges and hardships-some are quick to react and others are slow, some are too cautious and yet others are risk takers and daredevils.
In all accounts, the key to ease and manage life challenges and hardships is first to accept them as they come and realize you are not alone because you don’t own all the problems in the world; and to remember that those who have failed greatly, have come to achieve great success. Why? Because they were willing to take that leap of courage and believed on their abilities, talents, creativities, and their dreams.
Rather than just seeing your failures as an obstacle that could define you, you should make a choice to fight back, to trust what you were left with-your knowledge, your talents, and your creativity to keep you going, to help you turn things around.
Taking a leap of courage begins with believing in yourself, and believing that there still goodness in the world that comes in different forms and levels -there are ways out there, and there are someone good people out there that will guide honestly and help you sincerely to navigate your world, to make your dreams come true; to find optimal, logic, solutions to your daily challenges you might be facing; to make choices, changes, and continue fighting a good fight.
Roger Crawford asserted that “Being challenged in life is inevitable, being defeated is optional”.
And, “It always seems impossible until it is done”, Nelson Mandela.
Growing up in Kilimanjaro region in Tanzania, I am always reminded of the stories my grandfathers used to tell me, the Chagga folklore which still sleeping in my memories.
I am a Chagga by ethnicity. So, the WaChagga (plural) are the ethnic people of Kilimanjaro where the tallest, free-standing and a permanent snow-capped mountain in the world (5,895 m –19, 341 ft) is found.
Mt. Kilimanjaro facts are as fascinating and mysterious as its name and will share just a few facts-it’s one of the world’s most iconic peaks: Kibo, Mawenzi, and Shira-Kibo being the highest peak.
There so many Chagga stories about Mt. Kilimanjaro and its three peaks, however, today I will only relate courage with one fact about the Mt. Kilimanjaro-its name and the determination to climb it. This is where I first started learning about courage and the art of building courage.
I learned from early years of age not to give up easily, and so you won’t be surprised to learn that I have climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro twice, which defied my grandfather’s and the
WaChagga legends center on what they believed then as their ‘Ruwa’ and their Mt. Kilimanjaro as their highest power and assistance.
WaChagas believed on ‘Ruwa’ as a liberator and provider of sustenance; and so, as their Mountain which provides rich volcanic soils that support agricultural crops such as coffee, banana, maize, beans, and varieties of fruits, and the biggest of all, tourism revenues. So, from time immemorial the Mountain represents a powerful life source for the WaChagga who lives in the foothills of the Mountain.
Since WaChagga traditionally lives on the foot-slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro I wanted to climb it, to reach the top! The stories then were that anyone who attempted to conquer Mt. Kilimanjaro will die because the god of the mountain will get angry! So, why one would take a risk to make the god of the mountain angry and in turn to die when you can see the mountain from the window of your bedroom? Back then, it was a taboo drawn from the meaning of its name, ‘difficult to conquer’, that no one should attempt to climb it!
WaChagga contended that Mt. Kilimanjaro’s name means, ‘difficulty to conquer’. It must be that those attempted to go to the top of the mountain then and never came back could be that they didn’t have all the gears and clothes that are necessary today to protect themselves as they ascend the Mountain and neither did they knew about high-altitude sicknesses nor the physical fitness to be aware of when you plan to climb the Mountain.
Anyway, fast-track the story, undeterred by my grandfather’s stories about Mt. Kilimanjaro, I attempted to climb the mountain anyway, and surely, I failed to reach the top! It was my first time ever to have experienced such physical toucher-the hours of hiking and climbing the Kilimanjaro terrain passing through almost every kind of ecological system and vegetational zones to trek to the top was not only tiring but unbearable physical pain at times.
I remember crying and being left behind so many times-hiked from cultivated zone at the foothills of Mt. Kilimanjaro where banana and coffee plantations are found, then turned into rainforest zone, with the evergreen tangled tree branches roots waiting for you to greet them as you struggle to hold onto the branches, stem/trunk to find where your next footstep will land; then the heather and Moorland zone as the land opens into this vast land with countless species of plants that covered the horizon as I could with my eyes-there were plenty of wildflowers that were attractive-the colors, the texture, even their unique scents, which helped to ease the tiredness and pain I was enduring, at least for a short while; and then, we trekked into the alpine desert zone-here the wind intensified and the land gets rocky and there is sandy too so looking where you were coming from and where you were heading as the winds accompanied you was a challenge by itself; and finally an Arctic summit, an experience of real cold, deep into low winter temperatures. So, from rainy, hot, windy, sandy, and to a serious cold, you will experience it all.
They say climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro is like traveling from the tropical equator to the north pole, just like life itself-a path of adventure, with mountains to conquer, caves to explore, secrets to keep, and a lifetime of experiences that only you, you can discover it as you live it through!
Due to physical exhaustion and the high-altitude sickness I could not climb to the top instead, I was descended immediately to serve my life and therefore my attempt to conquer Mt. Kilimanjaro failed. Though the stories from my grandfather still lingered in my mind and wondered whether there was any truth to their beliefs about the Mt. Kilimanjaro, I still wanted to show and prove to them that it can be conquered. That the ‘Ruwa’ of the mountain had never gotten angry at them. Maybe people have gotten angry at the mountain they were so scared to conquer, as it will swallow them if they attempt!
And so, I set myself for a second attempt the following year, and this time, sure enough, I nailed it! I reached the summit of Africa! I reached the Uhuru peak (the Freedom Peak), the highest summit on Kibo’s crater rim! Nearly every climber who has summited Uhuru peak has recorded his or name and or thoughts about the accomplishment in a book stored in a wooden box at the top.
You see, the courage to try again even though it was not guaranteed that I would have made it the second time taught me a lesson about persistence, perseverance, and determination!
When you want to set yourself for something, sometimes just gather the courage and go for it. Don’t think about what might be going wrong, rather think about what could go right.
After all, you would have never known if you would have made it or not if you won’t try, and try, and try again!
They say, “…and until you spread your wings, you will have no idea how far you can fly”.
Thus, if I had my mindset fixed that I could not reach the Mountain top, I could not have made my second attempt. But because I made a choice-tuned my mind that I am going to try again to conquer it and fight my way up till I make it; I did it and made it to the summit.
So, what I learned from my experience of climbing the tallest, free-standing Mountain in the world twice is that challenging yourself whenever you are challenged build resilience, persistence, and determination-refuse the status quo…
“The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are”.
And perhaps as Viktor Frankly put it, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”.
So, keep looking forward as there always will be an option to move you to a right direction.
We all can, therefore, agree that taking a leap of courage can pave a way to a beautiful ending and beyond our beliefs.
Thus, “Difficult roads often leads to beautiful destinations”.
Gather your courage and take it with you wherever you go, wherever it takes you, and act upon it as it deemed to be fit.