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Where does courage come from and how do we get some?


I was being interviewed for a podcast last week and was asked if taking off on a road trip of indefinite length after selling all of my stuff was out of character for me, or if it was on course with my personality.

(I did, in fact, do that in 2011. It was called The Freedom Tour, and it led to me marrying Mike. Best decision of my life.)

The question got me thinking about why we do things that are out of the ordinary, why we take risks, and what makes us push the boundaries of what we’ve learned is possible.

The answer?


Courage comes from the Latin route “cor” which means heart.

So courage comes from our heart.

But when we’re shaking in our boots, feeling like we’re about to spew, and having trouble believing that no one else can see our heart fluttering wildly in our chest, we sometimes need something a little more substantial to hang onto.

I was asking Mike some business questions on a live video chat we were hosting last night. He told his story about leaving a really well paid job in corporate America to pursue his dream of being a business owner, so he could create the freedom to be at home with his family.

He didn’t come from a family of entrepreneurs.
He didn’t have a model to follow.
He took a lot of risks and colored way outside the lines.

He had no guarantees of success. But what he did have was way more valuable: courage.

Mike is a naturally pretty courageous guy. But not all of us feel so ballsy all the time. As I listened I began to wonder where courage comes from and how we get some if it’s eluding us.

After pondering Mike’s story of charting a new course for himself and thinking about the moments in my life when I’ve acted in spite of fear (which is how I define courage), I came up with the following.

So, for your pluck-bolstering pleasure, here are four places courage comes from and ways to get some if you’re feeling scared:

1. Have way-showers.
Way-showers are people who’ve walked the path before you. They’re people whose lives you admire and who have taken bold actions like you’d like to take. You don’t have to know these people, but sometimes you will. You can meet them at business events, in a coffee shop, or through reading biographies. They are the people who remind you of what’s possible when you’re sinking into the land of doubt. They are the people who hold the torch high, lighting the path, encouraging you that if they could do it, so can you. (It really does help to have a few of these people in your real life who you can call up from time to time, but it’s not necessary.)

Surround yourself with the courageous and you will become courageous, too. (Tweet it!)

2. Act on your intuition.
Two weeks before I left on The Freedom Tour, which was meant to be a solo trip, I got a very strong hunch to invite this guy I had barely met to come with me for the first 5 days from Buffalo to Phoenix. It didn’t make a ton of logical sense. I had only spent time with him on three occasions. But the feeling was super strong. So I acted. And I ended up with an amazing husband and business partner.

It’s one thing to know what your intuition is telling you. It’s another to act on it. Having people around you who also act on their intuition and support you in doing so really helps on this one.
(See way #1 above.)

Acting on your intuition is a different shade of listening to your heart. Courage is rooted in the heart. Your heart always knows the best answer. It doesn’t usually know the best answer. It always knows the best answer.

When you act on your intuition/listen to your heart, wonderful things happen. And then you prove to yourself that acting in spite of fear leads to good things. Which makes you feel more courageous. It’s an upward spiral that keeps on giving.

When you act on the messages from your heart your life becomes miraculous. (Tweet it!)

3. Avoid pain.
When Mike shared his story of leaving the corporate world and going out on his own, he said that he looked at his supervisors and realized he didn’t want their lives. He asked himself, “If I keep doing what I’m doing, what will my life look like in 5, 10, or even 20 years?” He didn’t like the answer. That image was painful to him. So he made a different choice.

While pleasure is nice, pain can be a beautiful motivator. Getting in touch with what will happen if you don’t act in spite of your fear can be just the ticket to get your rear in gear and tap the courage well.

4. Keep the dream alive.
While you’re avoiding pain, start to think about what you’re moving toward. Ask yourself: Will the discomfort I feel in taking this action be worth the outcome I desire on the other side?

99% of the time the answer is yes. (And if it’s not, then you know not to take the action, so that’s good information, too.)

Get in touch with your dream. For both Mike and me it’s been to create financial freedom so we can stay home with our kids one day. That dream is so palpable and meaningful to me that when I speak about it out loud, it makes me cry every single time.

When I have a phone call to make that I’m afraid to make or an ask to put out there that makes me want to hide in a cave, I think about my dream. I ask myself if the momentary discomfort of making this call or this ask would be worth being really present as my kids discover the world and being able to witness the magic of their childhood with them. The answer is always yes.

Do what you need to do to keep the dream alive. Make a vision board. Pin your heart out.

Create a circle of people who remind you of your dream when you’ve forgotten.

And remember this, if we’re not growing, we’re dying. Courage is the path of growth. Fear is the path of death.

As my dear friend Meggan Watterson, author of REVEAL, says:

“I’ve found when I move in the direction of fear, fear only increases.” And when we move in the direction of courage, our courage expands as well. The braver we get, the braver we get.


Which of the 4 ways to access courage most resonates with you? Do you have any other ways of tapping into your courage? I’d love to hear your ideas on this, so please leave a comment below!


  • This was the piece that spoke to me: “When I have… an ask to put out there that makes me want to hide in a cave, I think about my dream.” This is perfect for where I am at – exactly what I needed. thank you.

  • My word for this year is courage so this totally resonates with me. Thank you Kate, your blogs are always inspiring.

  • Such beautiful words Kate. Thank you so much for this. I love all of the points you’ve made but ‘acting on your intuition’ is my favourite :-)

  • I get my courage from choosing to associate with other courageous people. We may not be walking exactly the same path, but we’re all doing things that require bravery. Their courage makes me more courageous. So does their vulnerability. We all feel the fear and carry on in spite of it.

  • Maria


    How do you listen to your intuition and know it’s “right” or the “truth”, sometimes, I’ve asked and it’s wrong-the question doesn’t fit the answer. A yes, is a nice, warm feeling and a no is “nothing”, the body doesn’t react.
    For example, that hunch that you described, how did you do that?
    Thanks for sharing Kate,

    • Kate Northrup

      Maria – for me, it comes as a really strong feeling to do something. It’s not a thought. It’s like something is compelling me to take action even if it doesn’t make sense logically.

  • Hi Kate,
    I also recently quit a job I’d had for 10 years to pursue my idea of freedom and now work exclusively out of my “home studio” doing jewelry design. My husband also works for himself and we now spend our days exploring our creativity and wondering why we didn’t do this sooner…..
    life is so precious, no time to waste on other people’s agendas.

    PS I loved your Feng Shui tips and have cleared out our money corner..

    • Kate Northrup

      So beautiful Marcy – I love that you and your husband are getting to enjoy that sweet life together!

  • Courage, fear, commitment, sticktoitiveness, throwing my Self off the cliff, not knowing where the trip will take me influences all of the process. We have to be a Leader in our lives, taking chances, embracing the fear that appears so much like the vibration of excitement.

    So, I must always ask my Self, before a leap-“What could it hurt to take the chance?” Who stops us? Only our Self.

    The Buddhists do not have the word “try” in their vocabulary-either we doing it or we are not. There is no in between.

    Much love to all of us Courageous Beasts!

  • I love the feelings you spoke about in another post…ones of expansion or contraction. Those are my touchstones…when I consider my goal or dream which one of the two do I feel? I listen to my body every time. In 2011 I also gave away everything of mine I couldn’t take on the plane and moved to Australia. I am still there, but am planning on coming back to the USA in six months. I have taken off and followed something or someone and left awesome jobs many times to families chagrin! I now cannot wait to see our flag waving everywhere…a sight too long gone and too long missing. You don’t know how much your country means till you’ve been gone from it’s shores for so long…cheers.

  • Mirjam

    Dear Kate!!!
    Your E-Mail came by the right time.
    I came home from a walk at the river Rhine(Germany:) )startet the PC and read your words….so while my walk I was thinking about how to quit my so save Job and other important descisions.
    Maybe sometimess not the “how”is important…I guess it´s important to JUST DO it…what your Soul is calling for…and going this way…with trusting in life when you make your descisions from the heart, life will give to you what you need!!!
    Your words reminded me to that…
    Thank you for that..


  • Wow. I glanced at this last night and decided this morning to sit down and read it properly. So glad I did. Fear has been staring me down for weeks now. I’ve realised that fear of being ignored is the biggie for me, if I don’t try I am being ignored by default!! I am going to get crystal clear on my dreams and visions, they’re a bit fuzzy and that means my actions are also fuzzy. I’ve also taken your husbands approach by looking at my old boss/colleagues and decided that I didn’t want to be them. Now to figure out who I want to be instead. Love what Paula said about being no word for ‘try’ in the Buddhist language. xx

    • Kate Northrup

      So glad you took the time to come back to it Wilma. Clarity is power so I love that you know that’s what you need!

  • Marilyn

    GREAT POST! Just what I needed today!

    The post really helped me see that I am courageous…I, like Mike, didn’t come from a family of entrepreneurs. I am the only one in my family to go to college and finish my degree. I also started my own business last February. I never thought either of those as courageous until reading your post. Looking back I can actually see several things I’ve done that are courageous. I now have more fuel in my tank by acknowledging this.

    This simple phrase resonated with me:

    “Courage is the path of growth. Fear is the path of death.”

    Wow…simple, to the point, and spot on. Fear is something I am well acquainted with. My family has been consumed by it for as long as I can remember. I didn’t want that. I just hadn’t necessarily labeled the changes that I made as courage. I’m taking ownership of that word now…courageous.

    Thank you SO SO much for such a wonderful post.

    • Kate Northrup

      You are so welcome Marilyn – I’m so glad it helped you to see all the courageous things you’re already doing in your life!

  • I loved reading this blog – thank you Kate. It’s amazing how useful (and practical) it always is to be reminded to listen to our intuition. It’s such a trustworthy guide and so easy to overlook unless we pay attention. Thanks for the reminder.

  • This is a nice invitation, thanks Kate!
    I usually avoid writing, because English is my second language and I don’t like to sound like that. I need courage right here, lol.
    However, I think I am a naturally courageous person in many ways. I have been traveling and living abroad for many years (finally settled in Massachusetts). I went for my dreams without any money, without any family support, even without knowing anyone around. My dreams were the motivation, my courage.
    On the other hand, I figured I need more courage in social interactions. Being a very sensitive person, feeling emotions of others, I got discouraged to be in crowded places or in the center of attention. Today, that’s my biggest achievement – talking to people in public places and accepting that it is all right to be myself.
    I am happy I signed up for the B school, needed courage right here to trust my decision. Anyway, courage to me is moving forward with a trust. Knowing that my dreams will be achieved.

    • Kate Northrup

      That’s amazing that you are good at talking to people in public. That is one of the hardest things for me so I commend you! And thanks for your courage in writing your comment and welcome to B-School!!!

  • My best courage tip – is stop thinking. Just do it. Do your thinking before, be smart about it, but when the time comes – just do it. For me this is akin to jumping off of the high dive – in a few seconds it will be over. I also remember WHY I’m doing this, calling this client, booking this gig, etc. And lastly, I put it in perspective. I have literally nothing to lose. I’m borrowing this body, I’m on earth for only a few years, why not play with the time I’ve got?

  • Thank you for this post. It is so timely. I am teaching a 4 week online course with the Spiritual Living Institute and I entitled it, “The Courage to be GREAT!” I created the course to inspire others to show up as their authentic self, which requires courage. Shakespeare said, “assume a virtue if you have it not.” And courage is a virtue that can help us practice all the other virtues and live in our own truth.

  • Pippa

    This was such a timely post for me! I’m fighting a huge amount of internal resistance to putting myself out there in the dating world. While I was reading the post I was thinking about courage around work but when I asked myself what did I want to be doing in a year, the one word that come into my head was “love”. So I realised that right now the courageous thing for me to be doing is to pursue love and keep going with dating even though I find it scary! Thank you!

    • Kate Northrup

      Such beautiful awareness Pippa – it is always a good time for love. Enjoy the dating process and check out the book Mama Gena’s School of Womanly Arts by Regena Thomashauer. She helped me so much in my dating life!

  • Truly inspiring! Courage indeed comes straight from the heart and actually I wasn’t aware that the latin word cor means exactly heart! Thanks for that one…

    This article is full with enlightening insights and positive sayings that have the power to move anyone! I’ll be definitely tweeting those two “green statements”!

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