A birthday lesson

Apparently age only matters if you’re cheese. 

I am pretty cheesy. So every year, at my birthday, I do the cheesy thing and reflect on the lessons from the year before. Last year, I wrote 31 lessons for 31 years. It was my birthday last Monday, but instead of writing another list, this year I asked myself what is one theme that I’ve thought a lot about—and experienced—as essential to a life well-lived. 


I’ve come to understand that courage is the greatest expression of love. 

Maya Angelou said, “Courage is the most important of all virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently. You can practice any virtue erratically, but nothing consistently without courage.”

We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty. 

That change took courage. 

Make no mistake: courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is staring fear in the face and still doing what scares us the most, because that is exactly what leads to the fulfillment of our greatest purpose and creation of a truly full life. 

I have experienced this firsthand. 

I’ve been scared a lot. 

Many nights I found myself afraid and overwhelmed, eyes filled with tears. 

Fear can seem very real.

This past year was especially hard and scary. 

But facing my fears, even when it was really hard, has made all the difference. 

Joseph Campbell called fears our dragons, and it is only when we get close to them that they disappear. Only when we have a drink with the proverbial demons—our greatest fears, parts of ourselves or our psyche we try to disown—do the fears seize to exist. 

It is said that we are all as sick as our secrets. It’s not fear that keeps us trapped. It’s hiding the fear.

Courage therefore liberates us. 

It is hard to be courageous. But it is much harder living life without courage. 

In the end, we won’t regret the things we did, but we will regret not showing up in a big way and taking risks.

You know why? 

Because courage is the greatest expression of love. 

I have asked myself: if I ever had children, would I want their daddy to be a lion or a weasel? 

I want my kiddos to know that I had a heart of a lion. 

To quote Teddy Roosevelt, I want to be the man in the arena—not the man on the sidelines, being afraid of living, of loving, of daring greatly.

Only when we are brave do we realize what we’re made of. 

And, to quote Campbell again, “It’s a privilege of a lifetime to be who we are.” 

We get to choose how we want to use up our lives.

What will you choose: a lion or a weasel?

At the base of every personal or organizational dysfunction, there is fear. 

So I choose to imagine a world where we all have a bit more courage to face down those fears. 

That’s how we heal, that is how we leave a better world for those who come after us. 

Jim Wern talks about liking “messy people, people who don’t fit in a box or stay between the lines, but whose integrity is greater than any rule book and whose loyalty is stronger than blood.” 

We can’t be that person without courage. 

I want to have the courage to be that person. 

That courage is in you, too.  

We often think courage is reserved for some mythical heroes. 

This isn’t true … it’s reserved for us, because each of us has that heart of a lion inside.

And here is why it’s really important to be courageous: 

When we are courageous, we inspire those around us. We help those we love have courage to live authentically, fully, deeply, too. When we are courageous in living truthfully, we let others know that they, too, can do the same. When we are courageous, we face our deepest fears; we heal; we understand life in an entirely different way. We risk deep connection, thrill, and joy. When we are courageous, we help those in need, we stand up for what is right, we leave this world better than we have found it. Only when we are courageous do we get to reach our greatest potential. Only when we are courageous do we follow our bliss. Only when we are courageous does our life align, our being integrates, and do we make our children, indeed, everyone around us know only how deeply we love them. 

To be courageous is hard, but if we aren’t, how can we say we have lived or loved well? Or, really, lived at all? 

Sometimes the hardest thing and the right thing are the same, and being courageous is always the rightest and the hardest thing. 

How do we get to be courageous? 

It’s simple really: if it scares you, do it. 

Take the leap and the net will appear. 

People will give up on wonderful things in life, because the familiarity is more important than bliss. Have courage not to do this. Trust that, when we are courageous doors will open where there was only a wall before. 

This has proven true many times in all of our lives. 

And if fears are our dragons, then, as Neil Gaiman puts it, “fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.”

I hope you will slay your own dragons. 

The world needs you to do that. 

Adi Redzic