Finding courage when you don’t have any.

I was stuck, scared stuck, and nothing was unsticking me.  Someone was not following through on an agreement with me, an important agreement involving money they owed me.   A string of broken promises littered the past, and I was afraid to confront them.  I was just plain scared stuck.

I’d tried the soft approach.  I was nice, patient, good humored, positive, encouraging. (“Of course you’re going to pay me.  I understand.”)  I visualized success, and imagined the feeling of how good it would be to have this problem out of my hair.  (Oh, it was yummy!)

I’d self coached, just like I suggest to my clients and students.  I’d worked with a couple of my brilliant go-to coaches and each time, vowed to move forward.  And didn’t.

Honestly, though, most of the time, I avoided thinking about it.   Months went by, and nothing happened.  My positive energy hadn’t gotten results, visualizing success was getting harder, my courage was AWOL, and every day that slipped by was costing me money and peace of mind.

Not a good place for a personal coach who helps people find the courage to overcome their doubts and fears.  That didn’t feel good, either.

It was time to get tough and to call in the big guns—a lawyer.  And that scared me too, notwithstanding the fact that I am a lawyer.

Late one night as I paced around and contemplated my dilemma, a grand idea struck.  I’d create a courage vision board as inspiration.  I grabbed a pile of magazines, poster board, scissors and glue, and furiously began thumbing through the magazines, searching for photos of brave deeds, ferocious animals, and deering-do.

But there was one problem.

All I had on hand was a pile of Yoga Journals and O Magazines.  Photos of toothy, smiling waifs twisted like pretzels did not inspire courage.  Neither did photos of Oprah’s dazzling gowns, luxe vacation home, or Tom Cruise jumping on her couch.

Where were the lions and tigers and bears when I needed them?

And then, serendipity jumped off of the pages of an old Vanity Fair, written shortly after the massive earthquake that struck Haiti in early 2010.  Haiti, which has been called “The Best Nightmare on Earth,” has a special place in my heart.   I’d been there twice, and it’s people and culture fascinated me.  I knew the earthquake was a gargantuan tragedy in a place that was already at the breaking point.  The magazine featured an article about Camp Penn, the relief site founded by the actor Sean Penn.  Frustrated by the slow and meager response to the crisis from the world’s humanitarian community, and anguished by reports of people enduring unspeakable suffering without so much as aspirin available, Penn took matters into his own hands.  He assembled a team of doctors, a supply of morphine and surgical equipment, an airplane, and flew into Haiti.  He didn’t ask for permission, he simply took action.  Penn personally supervised his operation, despite the huge dangers from the anarchy and panic engulfing the fragile country.  The US military was so impressed with his courage and results, that they invited him to set up his operations within the borders of the military base they had established.

And there it was—Courage.  In living color.  A photo of Penn, squarely planted in a nightmarish, rubble-strewn scene in Haiti, looking as serious as a terminal illness and as mean as a snake.  And in an instant, I got it.  Sometimes that’s the stance that’s needed, that’s appropriate, that’s essential.  Sometimes that’s what right action and love and heart look like.

If Penn could risk his life like that to alleviate suffering, what the hell was I doing draining my energy over collecting a debt, legitimately owed to me and long overdue?  Was I waiting for permission from the other person to proceed?  (Admittedly, I was.  I wanted my money and I wanted to be liked.  Oh, yeah, and respected too, for my kindness and restraint.)   Was that likely to happen? (Duh. No.)  Who was going to give me permission other than myself?  Whose approval and respect did I really need here?

That was all the inspiration I needed.  I ripped out the photo, clipped it to the lampshade in my office, and started moving forward.  Yes, there was a lot of work to do.  Yes, it wasn’t easy.  Yes, my fears were triggered over and over.  And each time they did, I looked at up that photo and asked myself a simple question.  WWSD? What would Sean do?   Would he hesitate?  Hell no!  He’d tell his lawyer to move forward, he’d take the action she recommended,  and he’d say “Absolutely no more delay for any reason!”

Last month, my first check arrived.  It felt so good.

The photo’s still up there on my lampshade, too.  Just in case I need it.


Here are some simple exercises to inspire courage when you don’t have any:

1.  Find a photograph (from a magazine, the internet, or your personal photo stash) of someone you admire doing something incredibly brave.  Mount the photo where you can see it whenever you need a shot of courage.  Ask yourself, over and over again: what would they do right now in my situation?

Here are a few examples, but it’s better if you find your own.

Augusto and Michaela Odone, the parents featured in the film Lorenzo’s Oil, who relentlessly searched for a cure for their son Lorenzo’s ALD.

Captain Chesley Sullenberger who masterfully landed a disabled jetliner in New York’s Hudson River, saving the lives of 150 passengers and 5 crew members.

Immaculée Ilibagiza who, during the Rwanda genocide in 1994, stood silently starving in a cramped bathroom with seven other women for 91 days and emerged still infused with hope, spirit, and a heart full of love.

2.  Ask yourself: am I waiting for permission or encouragement from the person or situation I need to confront?  Then ask if you need their consent or approval, whether you are likely to get it, and what life would be like without it.  Ask yourself: am I approving of the way I’m proceeding here?

3.  Hire help if you need it—a lawyer, a coach, an expert consultant.

4.  Breathe.  I’m serious about this.  We tend to hold our breath when we’re afraid.  Make sure your exhale is as long as your inhale.

5.  Proceed forward in tiny little steps.  Remember, the first few steps forward are often the hardest.

6.  Keep going until the entire job is done.   All of it.  Each time you get stuck, take one or all of the above steps.

25 thoughts on “Finding courage when you don’t have any.

  1. Deb

    Wow, Terry. That is incredibly powerful and inspirational. Thank you so much for being so transparent, authentic and open. I know intellectually that the people I admire and consider mentors have the same struggles and challenges as the rest of us, nevertheless it is so encouraging to be reminded of that!

    I have several unfinished items that are unfinished because of fears and lack of courage … this inspires me start taking action.

    And … I had to smile at the “WWSD?” …. many coaches in my coaching circles use the mantra “WWTD?” … What Would Terry Do?” 🙂

    I really appreciate you sharing your story! And I’m printing it and keeping it in front of me as a reminder 🙂

  2. Terry Post author

    So glad it inspires you, Deb. Of course everyone gets scared. But as we all can learn, that doesn’t have to be the end of it. Especially when we remember that while it’s scary to move forward, it’s scary being stuck, too. In the end for me, the less scary path was the path of action.

  3. Sandra

    I’ve been looking forward to this post since you told me about it last week. You did not disappoint, Terry!

    As I was headed to a family event yesterday that I really did not want to attend but chose to as a supportive and loving thing to do, I was meditating with my breathing, grounding myself to show up with my leadership energy. And then…in a voice–and verbiage–not at all mine, I heard in my mind, “I am no goddamn shrinking violet.” What the what?? I don’t talk like that, and certainly not in relation to a family reunion. On a Sunday nonetheless! But there it was. And it worked. It *did* feel like me talking once I remembered that tough times call for tough measures and, energetically, that one qualified.

    But you and Sean Penn were with me, and we rocked it. 🙂

  4. Terry Post author

    Haha! Love your shrinking violet inspiration, Sandra! Fabulous! Sometimes inspiration comes in strange forms, doesn’t it!

  5. Jen


    When I read your post all my senses came alive. Real, raw and inspirational!!

    You make me smile. What a brilliant post. I’m sharing this with my Soul Circle as our Soul Guidance card for last week was Courage. And… I’d love to feature this in my Share section of my August newsletter.


  6. Terry Post author

    Thank you so much, Jen! Really! I’d be honored to have you feature this in your newsletter. My pleasure!

  7. Sarah Yost


    But wait. You want me to keep moving forward until the ENTIRE thing is done?

    It’s so much easier to move forward until I feel better and then stop. Stop. Stop.

    Love this post. Thank you.

  8. Terry Post author

    Thanks, Sarah! What you said reminds me of that classic cartoon of the toddler sitting on the toilet with the caption, “The job’s not finished until the paperwork is done!” We want to make sure we don’t stop just because we get the immediate relief, or we’ll still have remnants of you-know-what on our rears! 🙂 Thanks for your comment!

  9. Anette

    Terry, this was very inspiring. Love Sean Penn anyways:-) And guess what…I had a similar experience. I was very frustrated about an organization, that did not respond to any of my mails. And then, I wrote a letter of complaint and guess what – they invited me to their meeting. I don’t know if I wanna be or work with these people in the future, but I raised my voice and it felt great! XO

  10. Beth


    What a splendid and true model for getting over a very big hump. In self defense and empowerment training, we learned about how inner muggers derail and stop us flat. This great post reminds me how to access a coiling, sure, tensile strength. Brava and thank you.

  11. natalie morales

    thanks Terry! what an inspiring reminder of how effective we can be when we trust ourselves and take matters into our own hands, even if it means asking for help! love natalie

  12. Kimberly Dawn

    Thanks Terry for writing this story from your heart. I’m going to do this exercise right now. There’s something I’m stuck on and I’m gonna see if it unsticks me.



  13. beryl

    Terry, I love this! Just perfect for this day and many many days. How grateful I am for you, your brilliance, your open heart and raw honesty.

  14. Robin

    Just what I needed to read this morning! I especially love the part where you write “He didn’t wait for permission, he just took action”.
    Love it!

  15. Kimberly Dawn


    I just have to tell you, I did the exercise and got advice from Deepak Chopra and boy did it shift me! Thanks for the reminder on this way powerful exercise. Simply amazing how good it works. I got such clear guidance on exact steps to take.

    Big Hugs,



  16. Colleen

    You are such an inspiration. I love the question, “whose approval and respect did I really need here?”. Thanks for the steps to help us move through the fear and find our courage.

    Love & Blessings!

  17. rebecca @ altared spaces

    Waiting for permission from those who are trying to take us down? Uh, yeah….not gonna happen.

    I’m learning how very much I do this by working in my garden.

    I’ve gotten pretty good about the absolutely NASTY bindweed that comes up everywhere. I pull that without hesitation. But what about fresh smelling peppermint that volunteers EVERYWHERE and crowds out the lilies that happen to bring me great joy?

    Learning to have strong boundaries and say, “You belong there, but not here,” is taking great courage for me. I can feel myself wanting to just let everything wander where it wants to go.

    But then….some things get crowded out.

    When you don’t get paid I think of the classes that don’t get the time to incubate in your brain because you’re worried about confrontation. When I don’t tend to boundaries I give more than a full share of attention to the peppermints in my life and not enough to the lilies.

    Here’s to cultivating lilies (and classes and joy!) because we are keeping things in balance. I’ll take your courage pep talk with me into my office AND the garden.

  18. Terry Post author

    I love the garden metaphor for clear boundaries, Rebecca! Here’s what I’m wondering though. Why is asking to be paid for your work a confrontation? What if it was simply a reasonable request, just like the other requests we make in life? Would you like string beans or broccoli? Would you prefer a 2:00 or 4:00 appointment? Did you enjoy the movie? Will you take care of you overdue invoice? XOXO

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