Photo credit: Quinn Dombrowski (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Starting a business takes courage. You have to do the job of six people at once, deal with income that is variable at best, and non-existent at worst, and face all the other risks that come with walking where most others don’t dare to tread.

But that’s old news – anyone who’s been doing this for any length of time knows what’s involved, and has chosen to keep on going. So the question is: Why is it so hard? Why is it that in spite of the good days and the successes, there are so many nights that we feel tired and beaten, wondering where our courage has gone?

The answer is that the courage you need to get started is very different from the courage that you need to keep on going. When you’re just starting out, you need courage that is flashy and fiery – the kind that involves great leaps and inspiring speeches. To keep on going, you need a much less dramatic courage in the face of a far more exhausting reality. This kind of courage is much harder to come by.

Let’s start by understanding what we’re really talking about…

Flashy and Fiery: Braveheart Courage

The first kind of courage is Braveheart Courage, which I’ve named after Mel Gibson’s popular film.

This is the kind of courage that you read about in storybooks – the courage to take a stand against great adversity, face the monsters and confront overwhelming odds.

This is the kind of courage that is called for in the darkest moments with the most at stake, and it takes great strength of character to muster it up and get going.

But while this courage can get you going, it can’t keep you going over a long stretch of time.

Braveheart Courage is like gearing up to write a term paper in 24 hours; it’s doable, but you can’t keep that pace going for an entire semester – not just because you’ll get tired and run out of steam, but because an entrepreneur’s journey is more like a four year degree program than one brutal weekend of cramming.

And the degree program calls for a very different kind of courage…

Day after Day: Shawshank Courage

Shawshank courage is the kind of courage exemplified in the Shawshank Redemption.

In that film, Tim Robbins’ character is convicted of a crime that he didn’t commit, and sentenced to life in prison. Despite losing everything in his life, his spirit never wavers, and he digs his way to freedom, one spoonful of dirt at a time, over the course decades.

Braveheart Courage can get you to cannonball dive into a cold ocean, but Shawshank Courage will keep you swimming for hours and hours until you make it to shore. We relate best to examples, so here are some examples Shawshank Courage:

Now tell me – what kind of courage does an entrepreneur need? And which is harder to cultivate?

I think it’s Shawshank Courage – but where does it come from?

“Courage Doesn’t Always Roar…”

As difficult as it is, there are many wells from which you can draw strength and courage when you don’t have the strength to take even one more hopeless step.

You can think of your family, friends, business partners, and community – the faith that they’ve placed in you, and the love and support that they offer.

You can think of those who struggle even harder than you do, against far greater odds, and with far less to work with than you do.

You can think of what you’re doing it all for – the goals that you want to achieve, the life that you are working to provide for your family, and the impact that you’re trying to make in the world.

And if all fails, you think of a quote that has held me in very good stead, from Mary Anne Radmacher, who says that “Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying ‘I will try again tomorrow’.”

Write it down, and put it up on your wall. You can even get a fancy, framed version if you like.

The next time you feel that you need a little help trying again tomorrow, read that note, and remember that this is what courage is really about.

Then say in a quiet voice that you’ll try again tomorrow.

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