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Courage Comes Second

Today I got up early and took a ride to Boston to enjoy the first running of the famous Boston Marathon since the COVID-19 pandemic began. A good friend of mine was running - he had qualified for the 2020 race - and there was no way I was going miss cheering him on.

I was reminded in so many ways, both big and small, of the courage that we need in the world today.

Besides my friend's courage to push his 40+ year old body across a notoriously difficult course, I witnessed a few other scenes today that captured my spirit:

  • The first racers I witnessed upon arriving at the course were the participants navigating the course in wheelchairs. Seeing strong, brave men and women who cannot run finding ways to pedal (with arms and/or legs) their way through 26.2 miles brought chills to the collective spine of the throng along Commonwealth Avenue.

  • I also witnessed multiple racers with prosthetic legs making their way up the hill upon which I stood, the carbon fiber extensions of their upper legs the only tangible difference between them and their peers.

  • Several race teams captured my heart - an incredibly strong man or woman pushing a wheelchair holding an immobile loved one through the masses. They inspired the biggest cheers and the strongest tug at my emotions.

The Courage of a Boy

And there was one other scene, one that wasn't witnessed by the large crowd.

As my partner and I were walking up a side street towards the race course, a young boy of perhaps 4 came up on our heels, his small scooter creating a playful racket that announced his approach.

Upon hearing this young boy closing in, my partner turned to ask if he wanted to pass. At that precise moment, just as she'd finished asking him that question, the front wheel of his scooter jammed into a lip between sections of the concrete sidewalk, sending him sprawling abruptly onto its hard surface.

My heart sank as he thudded to the ground. It looked like a bad fall. Stopping in our tracks, we both (as parents of 3 kids each) instinctively bent low to see if he was ok. I expected the worst.

Without hesitation, he popped up and said, "I'm totally fine."

Luckily he was, yet the way he responded struck me. Before this young boy even had a moment to assess how the fall might've impacted him, he instinctively responded that he was "totally fine".

It felt like a very learned response.

This little encounter has had me thinking for the rest of my day. Was that a natural, native reaction?

Or was it something he picked up from another experience, one in which not being "totally fine" caused him embarrassment? One of those moments where a boy learns that he's supposed to "shake it off" or "man up" and definitely not cry?

The Need For Fear

Perhaps - ok, probably - I was projecting some old fears of mine onto this boy, fears that I might be seen as not being tough, of being afraid. Fears that I did not have courage.

In that small moment I was reminded of something crucial: the need for fear.

While I learned the lesson long ago in a group whose collective wisdom far exceeds my own, I needed this reminder:

Courage cannot exist without fear.

Maybe that boy was afraid.

And he had the courage to get up and try again.

Maybe the man on prosthetics, smiling as he approached the staggering hills that begin at mile 19 of the Boston Marathon, was secretly afraid.

And he had the courage to keep going.

Maybe I was scared in some way today - perhaps that the little boy would cry and feel the shame I felt as a young boy when I couldn't put on a brave face when I was hurt in one way or another.

And I suppose I had the courage to stand there, show up, and be a supportive face anyway.

Courage takes many forms.

All of them have fear to thank for their emergence.

What fear are you ready to lead with, so you can bring forth your courage?


Jim Young is a Men's Burnout Coach. He helps high-achieving Dads accomplish their goals without sacrificing productivity, income or relationships by helping them learn how to have the emotionally intelligent, game-changing conversations that free up their time & energy.

Jim offers a free 3-Day challenge that helps men see how bringing out more Courage In Conversations is the key to alleviating their long-running challenges with burnout.

When he's not focused on helping men break out of their burnout, Jim likes to to wherever he can observe people showing up for what's important to them. You can reach out to Jim via email if you'd like more information on how he can help you (or a guy you know) recover from burnout.

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