What is the Courage Wall?
The Courage Wall is a community project intended to inspire courage. The original Courage Wall was an 8 foot tall x 20 foot wide chalkboard located on the 2200 block of Mount Vernon Avenue in Alexandria, Virginia. Newly-designed walls with different dimensions were installed in the Ballston neighborhood of Arlington, VA (July-August 2015) and at the Metro stop at Reston, VA (September 1-25, 2015). At the top of each board reads the statement, “I Wish I Had The Courage To…” with blank lines below for the passersby to fill-in.
I’ve worked with a lot of people as a personal and leadership coach. Pretty much every transformational coaching session boils down to this: naming a fear and declaring a courageous action to overcome it. For many, the fear lies under the surface. It’s not even on the radar that the force of fear is at play. But digging deeper, it is usually at the root of feeling trapped, unhappy and powerless. Fear is underneath the stress that makes us eat too much, drives us to fill every waking moment with noise and robs us of being our best selves.
On a personal note, I recently took the Leadership Circle 360 Assessment. One of the categories of being an effective leader is “courageous authenticity.” The assessment helped me see that I hold back from making bold moves and taking a stand in the face of conflict. I decided that I wanted to work on acting with courageous authenticity. What better way than to undertake a project on courage?
What do you hope to accomplish?
I hope to build a community of support for people’s dreams, big and small. I hope that by having the conversation about courage and fear that we raise awareness of what is holding us back as individuals and communities. I hope to inspire and equip people of all ages to lead big, authentic lives. And of course, I hope to become more courageous myself.
Where do you think courage comes from?
I think people can summon their courage by digging deep to understand the fear that is holding them back.
Once a fear is named, its power starts to fade. The fear starts to sound almost silly if we think about it long enough. Sometimes it’s hard to see that there are consequences to not taking action. It’s interesting to ask someone, “What’s at risk if you do nothing? What would happen to you if you didn’t make a change?” When the answer boils down to “loss of self,” it becomes easier to summon courage.
What are three things people can do to drum up courage?
- Identify the fear that is holding them back (this usually boils down to losing control, being alone or being shamed).
- Make a declaration to do something courageous to face the fear.
- Share the declaration with others to build a network of support.
Where do you find courage?
I’m always able to walk more boldly when I focus on my core values. Identifying how I want to show up in the world is one of the most powerful exercises I have done. When I feel afraid, I remember what I want my life to be about: impact, vibrancy, freedom and love. Those four words have helped me deal with my fear of public speaking, taking business risks and create things that make a positive impact on others.
Who is your courage icon?
I don’t know that I have just one. Really, I think my courage icons are people who step into a leadership role. Leadership is hard. It’s risky. And it’s not for the faint of heart. And when I say leaders, it’s not just formal leaders. Anyone who steps up to build a community is a leader in my book. It’s taking responsibility for the growth and wellbeing of others, whether at work or at home. It’s cultivating human potential. It’s taking stands and creating paths. It’s experimenting with ideas that may fail. It’s having the courage to be authentic. People who put themselves out there every day are my icons.
What makes you feel courageous?
Doing projects like this! I realize that by creating a courage board, people will expect me to be courageous. Knowing that I need to walk the talk has helped me live more boldly.
What’s the last or most courageous thing you’ve done?
I don’t know that there is a “most courageous thing.” To me, courage is a practice. It’s a lifestyle. I count all of my victories over fear as the most courageous things I’ve ever done. And I know they will lead to bigger and bolder victories over my fears in the future.
When I was studying what makes people joyful, I wanted to write “Be joyful” on the sidewalk outside my office. I got sidewalk chalk and gleefully went outside to spread the word. But then the little voice in my head started to tell me that people would think I was strange and that what I was doing was stupid and a waste of time. I turned around and put the chalk away. Moments later, I realized that my fear of looking silly had robbed me from something I really wanted to do. I got the chalk, drew a big “Be joyful!” sign on the sidewalk, and engaged a number of people who told me I made them joyful right then and there.
That was one of my most memorable and poignant experiences about being courageous. It was a really small victory over a nonsensical fear, but it began to raise my awareness of how every day, I unwittingly let fears hold me back from living big.
My hope is that this board at this location is only the beginning of a courage campaign. This campaign can raise the consciousness of countless people to live with more purpose and passion.
I’m talking with school administrators and teachers from elementary school to graduate school to find ways to engage students. I think it would be fascinating to study how fear and courage manifest in different generations and through different stages of development.
I’m also in conversations with multiple people about moving the Courage Wall to other locations. It’s a great community-building project that can help people come together to support each other’s dreams.
And of course, we are going to track the courageous aspirations and actions of people on social media at #WeLiveBig.
I’m really open to ideas on how to help courage gain traction in individuals, communities and organizations. Please contact me with creative ways to build the courage community!
How can we keep in touch with you?
Certainly follow the progress of the courage campaign on social media with #WeLiveBig. You can also sign up for our newsletter in the sidebar of this post. We plan to build a number of resources for people to enact courage in their lives and in their workplaces. You can see what we have now to inspire you at our Etsy store. The newsletter is the best place to find out about what’s happening next!