Mettle 1. n. courage, fortitude, pluck, ardor, verve. 2. on one’s mettle, in the position of being ready to do one’s best.

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Metal and mettle both rust if neglected. They lose their shine. They become tarnished and weakened. People who have lost their mettle no longer have sufficient courage or enthusiasm to take on the world and rise above the challenges it brings them. They become dull, apathetic, ready to accept second or even third best.

How can you see whether this is starting to happen to you? Here’s how to make a brief audit of the state of your mettle: a way to inquire into the health of your inner spark, the part of you that can transform your life and outlook—if only it still has enough strength to do so.

1) Do your actions match your values? A sure sign of inner corrosion is when you are ready to betray your personal convictions in the name of expediency.

Everyone has to make compromises from time to time, but some values are too important to sidestep for the sake of fitting in, making money, or having a quiet life. No one was ever moved to do their best, or overcome a challenge, by compromise or taking the easy way out. Only ideals inspire. Lose those ideals and you lose most of what makes you who you are. You become an obedient robot.

If you realize that you’ve given up on things that really matter to you—that compromise and accommodation have become habitual—ask yourself this the next time you look in the mirror: Can you still respect the person you’ve become? If not, it’s time to change. Those values and ideals are still within you, waiting to inspire you again.

2) Are you wasting time on goals and activities you really care little about? You have this one life, this one chance to live in a way that will make you feel proud, win or lose. Every moment spent on some activity that means next to nothing to you is a moment you could have allocated to living your dreams.

Take a good look at your life. Is it what you want? Is it going in a direction that you believe is important? When you are old, will you recall this time with pleasure—or with sadness and amazement that you could have wasted so much time for so little that truly mattered?

While you still have the time, stop and review what you are doing. If necessary, reverse course. Do it now. Your hopes and dreams are too important to throw away through neglect or fearfulness. Time spent on activities that you don’t value is time stolen from your life.

3) Does your life add energy to this world or suck it away? Are the people you interact with enlivened by having you around? Or are you an energy sink: a presence that draws energy and liveliness out of everything, leaving it grayer and duller as you pass along?

People who are truly on their mettle—people who spread enthusiasm, fun, excitement, and ardor for life—pass through this world leaving everyone that they meet feeling just a little better, brighter, more energized as a result.

Any internal tarnish doesn’t affect just you. It lowers the spirit of everyone who must deal with you. Have you ever been served a meal by a waiter who was miserable, glum, surly, or apathetic? The kind of person whose mere presence robbed the food of some of its taste? And have you even encountered the opposite: a waitress clearly enjoying her job, lively, enthusiastic, ready with a big smile and an infectious cheerfulness?

Which one are you? Which do you want to be? What will it take to bring back the smile to your face and the spring to your step?

You can let life’s problems and cruelties rob you of your mettle, your shine; or you can devote time regularly to polishing away the smears and stains, so that your courage and enthusiasm to live life as you believe it should be lived can shine through again.

You can only find happiness and satisfaction by starting with the life you have today. No one can do this for you; each person must find his or her own way. If what you have is dirtied and dulled, that’s still where you must start from—right here, right now. Until you clean yourself and restore your mettle, your spirit and ardor, you’ll either stay in your present position or decline still further.

Life is good only when you make it so. That’s a task for which all of us truly need to be on our mettle.

Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. Recent articles there on similar topics include How to save yourself from being hooked again and Binocular vision. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, is now available at all good bookstores.

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