When you do what you’re called to, you can trust the courage you need will follow.
Everyone has something unique and valuable to offer the world, a purpose, if you will, but fear can easily get in the way and prevent you from accomplishing it. A calling is different. A calling is something you feel so compelled to do that not even fear will stand in your way. Some might suggest that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. felt called to lead the American civil rights movement; that Mahatma Gandhi felt called to lead a non-violent Indian Independence movement; and that Malala Yousafzai felt called to advocate for women’s education in Pakistan. Each one risked their life to pursue their calling, and they did it anyway.
Courage like this isn’t something people are born with. It’s actually something they’re born without. Babies are born with a startle reflex. Loud noises, sudden movements, and separation from their caregivers scare them and make them cry.
It’s a wonder to me how these fragile, frightened little creatures find the courage to start rolling over; and then the courage to crawl, walk and finally run away. But they do. Courage isn’t something you have or you don’t have. It’s something that develops when the drive inside you overpowers your fear.
I asked a man who works in the CIA if he or the men he works with are unique in some way. Were they born without fear? He said:
I remember feeling sick to my stomach in elementary school, when I was afraid of a bully at school. It is a terrible feeling. Years later, I fought a predator in Paris, France, someone who was targeting a young girl at a bus stop. I felt no fear at all, just adrenaline…I think that fear can be crowded out, pushed off that stage of our mind, by other emotions, such as anger, excitement, patriotism, or feeling to help someone else.
Men who risk themselves fighting in wars, charging into burning buildings or jumping in front of bullets don’t do it because they were born without fear. They do it because in that moment, something deep inside them overpowers their fear.
In reality, everyone feels fear; and fear serves a valuable purpose: self-preservation. Fear holds us back from self-destructive activities and enables us to proceed with caution when situations call for it. To overcome the fears that keep us safe, we must have a drive strong enough to propel us out of our comfort zones, or in other words, a calling.
In storytelling, this is what quests are all about. The main character always resists embarking on their quest in the beginning, but something inevitably happens to motivate them. When the incentive to achieve the goal gets strong enough, the courage the character needs comes with it.
For example, in The Lightning Thief, Percy Jackson doesn’t want to risk his life to find Zeus’s missing lighting bolt until he realizes he can use it to free his mother from the underworld. In that moment, he is called. His drive to free her overpowers his fear for his life.
Finding a calling isn’t easy—because you can’t force fit someone else’s drive into your soul, but there are three things that could make the process easier: time, acceptance, and support.
Time can help in two ways. First, sometimes finding the motivation to confront your fears is just a matter of waiting for the right circumstances. When my CIA friend saw a predator targeting a young girl, his fear was overpowered.
Patiently waiting for the right circumstances isn’t always possible, however, so time helps in another way. Over time, repeated exposure can build up a tolerance for circumstances that scare you.
My CIA friend said:
I remember during my first time in Afghanistan, they were rocketing us at night. The first time it happened I jumped out of bed, rushed outside, armed and ready for anything. Seems like the next few times I got out of bed, looked outside, then went back to bed. After a while, I didn’t even get out of bed. I mainly thought, “Can’t you jerks wait until the morning?”
Evidence suggests that one of the best things you can do to overcome your fears is admit you are afraid. Telling yourself you aren’t afraid will make your fears more powerful in the long run, but the simple act of naming an emotion has a powerful calming effect.
Accepting your fears can dramatically reduce their power and decrease the motivation required to overpower them.
There is little that calms fear as much as having someone capable by your side. Babies move out of their comfort zones by holding a parent’s hand until they are ready to let go and venture out on their own.
Mentoring programs are built around this idea as well. Starting a new job, even a dangerous one, is much less frightening when someone knowledgeable is there to guide you until you’re ready to work alone.
Callings come in all shapes and sizes. I just watched a junior high school aged boy stand up in front of his school and tearfully explain how much it hurt to be teased for being small. It was the most courageous act I’ve personally witnessed; and I’m sure it changed everyone who was there.
What you have to offer this world is as unique as you are, but you can trust that when you do what you’re called to do, the courage you need will follow.
Also by Christine Walker:
Photo Credit: Getty Images
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