Wellness Wednesday: COURAGE | Model Behaviors

Wellness Wednesday: COURAGE

This week, to introduce our new word of the month, Courtney shares the meaning of courage.


I have my own definition of courage, which I want to share with you. But before I put words around what courage means to me, I thought about all the women in my life who exhibit this quality on a daily basis. There are many strong, fearless women who surround me. They approach every day, every obstacle, every challenge with a deep sense of bravery and resolve. Yet, as most sources would say, having courage doesn’t mean you don’t have fear. It simply means you ignore the fear and do the damn thing anyway.

So before I get to my own personal definition, let’s hear from some incredible women what courage means to them. I’ve included their name, their relationship to me, and why I think they’re courageous.

Kathy Howell

Relationship: mom

Why She’s Courageous: So! Many! Reasons! But I really admire her for going to college to get her teaching degree while having three young kids, despite the upheaval and innate challenges it presented. Now, she gets to do what she’s passionate about, which is teaching math to 7th and 8th graders (which takes a lot of courage, in and of itself).

Her Definition of Courage: When you’re feeling swamped and when you feel your life is out of control, it takes courage to gather yourself and start wading through one step at a time even though you feel like you’re drowning because you know you have no other choice.

Betty Campbell (AKA Mimi)

Relationship: grandmother

Why She’s Courageous: She lost the love of her life, my Pops, but continues to live a full life and give so much love to her family.

Her Definition of Courage: Facing life as it comes each day. Doing what has to be done even when you do not wish to do that. Praying you are making the right choice always. Loving everyone even when you do not like their choices.

Julett Broadnax (AKA Granny)

Relationship: grandmother

Why She’s Courageous: I don’t know if she would label herself as this, but to me, she’s a feminist at heart. When she was young and in a time when this was greatly discouraged, she left an abusive marriage. Later, she stood by her oldest son with love and acceptance when he came out as gay in a time when people were even less accepting than they are now. Even now, at eighty-three, she resolutely fights for women to be leaders and equal participants in the Catholic church.

Her Definition of Courage: Courage is when you’re fully aware of problems or dangers, yet able to assess and discern steps to take to arrive at a solution or resolution. Sometimes this involves abandoning or letting go of people or situations. And sometimes it involves many small steps and perseverance to make progress. Keeping a positive yet realistic attitude is the first step toward successful resolution.

Erin Howell

Relationship: sister, roommate, bandmate, best friend

Why She’s Courageous: She works for American Cancer Society, helping cancer patients find resources. It’s not an easy job. She never knows what to expect when she’s on a call, but she does her work with grace and aplomb. I’m not surprised that she’s good at this particular job. Most people would be uncomfortable in the face of so much raw pain and rage and sadness. But I see her taking care of friends who’re hurting—when they’ve just broken up with someone, when they’re dealing with a medical issue, or when they’ve lost someone or something dear. She has a quiet, calm way of taking care of people without them even realizing she’s doing so.

Her Definition of Courage: Courage is hearing all the negative things you have to say about yourself and choosing not to listen.

Marge Harris

Relationship: aunt

Why She’s Courageous: She got divorced while my three cousins were all still pretty young and living at home. Each day brought a new challenge, and it wasn’t always a pretty road, but she got up and faced each day with strength and resolve.

Her Definition of Courage: Courage is facing whatever circumstances come your way in life, no matter how scary or painful or impossible they may seem. It’s a determination, or a must, that comes from within to keep forging forward. We usually learn quite a bit about ourselves when we go through life experiences, whether they be thrust upon us or chosen. Courage is the strength and wisdom we did not know we had.

Emily McClendon

Relationship: cousin (but more like a sister)

Why She’s Courageous: She’s married to and fiercely loves an Indian man when there are people in our family who are not accepting of other races and other cultures.

Her Definition of Courage: Courage is being vulnerable. Being human. Being your completely naked, true self and unafraid of the rejection and ridicule of society.

Katie McClendon

Relationship: cousin (but more like a sister)

Why She’s Courageous: Katie has a true joie de vivre that I rarely see in others. She seems so unafraid of making mistakes and lives life on her terms.

Her Definition of Courage: Courage can have a lot of meanings. The most popular definition is probably that courage is when you’re afraid of something or someone and you choose to face your fears anyway. To me, courage also has a lot to do with being selfless.

I read an article the other day about some women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose villages were attacked by Congolese soldiers. Their husbands were killed, and their children were beaten or abducted. The women were taken outside their homes and stripped naked, then staked to the ground on their hands and knees for weeks so passing soldiers could have their way with them. A lot of the women were beaten, raped, burned, and left for dead or with child. In that country, a woman who has a child while having no husband, or just having a child that was the product of rape by a random soldier, is usually disgraced and scorned. Despite all of this, most of the women in these villages chose to keep and raise their children with love and affection, even though every time they looked at their kids, all they could think about was how they were raped (or gang raped).

After reading about this, all I could think was how selfless these women were to still choose to love their children after they came from so much hate. This was one of the most courageous things I’ve ever heard.

So to me, courage means being able to see what is really important and acting on that. Whether it means facing a fear or just being selfless. Or both.

Caroline McClendon

Relationship: cousin (but more like a sister)

Why She’s Courageous: She struggles with mental health issues but is always open and willing to support others with their own struggles, too.

Her Definition of Courage: Courage is standing up for something you believe in, even if it means standing alone.

Erika Schmidt

Relationship: best friend since we were 11 and best friend for life!!!

Why She’s Courageous: I’m tempted to mention how she’s a badass corporate lawyer, holding her own with some seriously major companies. But the reason I truly admire her bravery is that she lost her mom at twenty-two, and despite the sorrow and heartbreak of that loss, she exudes her mom’s generous, warm, and loving spirit on a daily basis.

Her Definition of Courage: I think there’s two types of courage. One is jumping blindly into the unknown, not out of recklessness, but because you think it’s right. The other is jumping into an impossible situation with complete clarity of every single obstacle. Both types require the same traits though—determination, a vision of where you want to be, and the recognition that not everything is in your control.

Kolbe Ricks

Relationship: bestie for life

Why She’s Courageous: She teaches 7th and 8th graders in a Title 1 school, and she doesn’t just show up and do her job. She genuinely cares about each and every one of her students, and wants to help them however she can.

Her Definition of Courage: I’ve learned a lot about courage since becoming a teacher. Mainly, I’ve realized that courage is not necessarily bold, in your face, and as visible as the lion which we so often use in metaphor.

Courage can be quiet. It can be a simple act, a small word. It can be a student who breaks out of a clique to befriend someone who doesn’t seem to fit in. A girl seeking help for her best friend who is cutting herself, yet still being scared that her friendship would end because she promised she would keep it a secret. A boy taking a brave step to leave behind a gang, knowing there are serious repercussions. A teacher who comes back day after day to work with a specialized class for students who are labeled as emotionally disturbed. Courage, to me, is taking a stand for something you believe in and supporting someone in a tough situation.

I see acts of courage from my students daily and do my best to continue my own courageous act of pouring so much of my life and time into the lives of my students even though I might never know if I actually made a difference to them. I will always try.

Molly Magee

Relationship: lonnnnngtime friend

Why She’s Courageous: Molly always strives to be true to herself and never apologizes for pursuing what makes her happy.

Her Definition of Courage: You know that saying “character is what you do when nobody is watching”? That’s kind of how I feel about courage, too. It’s having the strength to do what needs to be done for yourself or others, when there’s no one around. I guess what I’m saying is, in my mind, courage and character go hand-in hand. Whether you have a great support system or none at all, life takes courage, and it takes character to be courageous in life.

Katie Shepherd

Relationship: best friend and former bandmate

Why She’s Courageous: I admire Katie for two reasons. First, she moved across the country, leaving behind friends, family, and an amazing city…twice! I’ve always wanted to move out of Texas, so I really admire her for following her heart, even when it was very hard to do so. Second, when we first started playing music together, she had extreme stage fright. She pushed through it so many times, and now, though she still gets nervous, she has much more confidence and ease onstage.

Her Definition of Courage: I didn’t come up with this idea, but I do agree—it’s being afraid but doing it anyway.

Savanah Shanks

Relationship: best friend and bandmate

Why She’s Courageous: To me, Savanah is confidence personified. She wears crop tops. She talks to strangers with ease and charm. She books tours for her band. She got married at 24! She knows her own mind and is never afraid to speak it. Her courage comes out in a thousand different ways, some great, some small, but it’s always there.

Her Definition of Courage: Courage starts with acknowledging that you are afraid and becoming comfortable in that state, then doing anything in your power to conquer what is fearful.

Leah Nobel

Relationship: friend and fellow musician

Why She’s Courageous: She had her heart completely broken in two, and instead of letting it break her, she turned it into beautiful, haunting music. And not once but twice, she moved to a brand-new city to pursue her career.

Her Definition of Courage: Courage means being scared and doing it anyway! Courage also means not shaming yourself for being scared. You just exist beside your fear.

Monica Skinner

Relationship: friend and fellow musician

Why She’s Courageous: On top of being an incredible violin player and singer, she’s a sound tech, which means most of her colleagues are dudes. She more than holds her own. She’s always working some cool event or going on a fun travel adventure or making weirdly cool sounds on her violin. She’s truly and utterly herself, and that takes a supreme amount of courage.

Her Definition of Courage: Courage means letting nothing and no one hold me back, believing in my personal power, and standing up for what I know is right!

Jessica Fonseca

Relationship: friend and fellow writer

Why She’s Courageous: She had the strength to listen to her own heart when everyone around her was telling her the opposite of what she knew to be true and right. Though her road has been very difficult this past year, she’s stayed true to herself—one of the most difficult things to do in this world!

Her Definition of Courage: Courage goes far beyond the ability to just speak out about something. In its deeper essence, courage is the ability to quiet yourself, listen to the voice inside your heart, and take action to be the best version of yourself. Finally, courage is also the ability to step outside yourself long enough to hear the voice in other people’s hearts.

Rebekah Faubion

Relationship: friend and fellow writer

Why She’s Courageous: She loves things fiercely and doesn’t let anyone make her ashamed or embarrassed of that love.

Her Definition of Courage: Courage is being a writer. It is digging in deep to whatever part of you that you must in order to tell the truth through your characters. Then it is putting it in the world, in whatever form you choose, to give someone else the courage to keep living, fighting, breathing. It is being thankful that you get the privilege, and never flinching away from the fear.

Susan Bishop Crispell

Relationship: friend and fellow writer

Why She’s Courageous: Susan has had her health put through the wringer. Each time she came face-to-face with her own mortality, she stared it down, flinty-eyed and unyielding. Through all of it, she had (and continues to have) one of the most positive, warm, and nurturing spirits I’ve ever come across.

Her Definition of Courage: Courage is staring something scary right in the face and not backing down. It’s making your desire bigger than your fear. It’s focusing on the positive and telling the negative to go to hell. It’s believing in yourself despite the odds. Courage is never giving up.

Summer Spence

Relationship: friend, fellow writer, and my Pitch Wars 2015 mentor

Why She’s Courageous: Summer has a very special kind of courage. She’s one of those rare women who are unafraid of talking about things that are difficult or hard to hear. Sometimes people may perceive this as harsh or blunt, but she always speaks from the deepest, truest sense of compassion and kindness.

Her Definition of Courage: I don’t think courage has to be a big, loud thing. Like fighting off a grizzly in the woods to save your child. Or running into a burning building to rescue a trapped friend. Courage, at its root, is small. It’s the little voice inside that says, you can. It’s as simple as getting out of bed every day when the world is a little (or a lot) dark. It’s saying something kind when someone has hurt you. It’s finding the strength to keep going despite failure. As we commit these small acts of courage, they build into something marvelous—a courageous person. An active person. Someone willing to live with heart and risk. That’s the greatest courage—vulnerability. When we put ourselves out there and expose ourselves for who we really are—heart and mind and soul—and wait for the world to accept our offering… that’s courage.

As you can see, there are so many incredible women in my life. I couldn’t even include all of them here! This is just a sampling, and what’s cool is that I know each of these women have their own circle of women, which includes even more courageous women. We surround each other and keep each other brave.

So here’s what courage means to me.

Courage happens when I let all my fear in—all the doubts, insecurities, and terrors, all the dark outcomes I could ever imagine—it means looking at every single one of these square in the eye and refusing to give them power. It’s also believing in myself and believing in every good thing I’m capable of doing. On the days I’m feeling extra brave, it’s picturing every good thing humanity is capable of doing, too, and choosing to believe in that vision. Courage is a quiet thing, and it happens in my heart.

I would really love to hear YOUR definition of courage. I plan on carrying each of the ones above and any left in the comments with me throughout the rest of the month. If there’s a definition here that speaks to you, scribble it in your journal, save it on your phone, record it as a voice memo. Preserve it somewhere and take it with you.

If there’s someone in your life you see as particularly courageous, please give them a shout-out in the comments too! There are so many different kinds of courage, and we have room for all of them here!


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