In 1965, I was drafted into the U.S. Army just as the Vietnam war was beginning. I was twenty-one years old. A few days into basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, I would learn a new definition for fear and courage — valuable lessons that I use to this day.
Boring until it wasn’t.
As far as basic training goes, it’s very basic and very boring. For the most part, there was nothing scary or dangerous about it — until grenade practice.
The army is very clever. In those days, they would take you out late in the evening and demonstrate what throwing a live grenade looked like. At night, it was much more dramatic because not only would the sound of the grenades detonating ring loud and clear, but the flash of the explosion in the dark was a powerful reminder of the danger.
The sergeant who was demonstrating that night looked at us and said, “Now, if you get this right, you get a big bang, and if you get it wrong, you become hamburger.”
I can still remember how vivid my dreams were that night.
The truth and trust.
The next morning, by the time I got to grenade practice, I was very nervous. The first sergeant, who was in charge, asked right off the bat, “How many of you are scared?”
I was the only one who put up my hand. It was the truth. I was very scared. Then he said, “Sullivan’s the only one I trust here because the rest of you are scared, and you’re not telling the truth about it. I’d rather have somebody scared and telling me about it. And because I trust him, he’s going to be the first person to go down in the pit and throw a grenade.”
So I went down into the pit with the instructor, threw the grenade following his exact instructions, and it was fine. I discovered that if you just do what you’re told and follow through, there’s no problem.
A definition of courage I’ve never forgotten.
When everyone had finished, the first sergeant gave us a valuable lesson about fear. He said, “Fear is wetting your pants. And courage is doing what you’re supposed to do with wet pants.”
What I took away from that and have always remembered is that courage is never comfortable.
Courage is often depicted as a person feeling absolutely certain about taking action in a situation. That’s not courage — that’s confidence. The difference between courage and confidence is that confidence feels good; courage is doing what you’re supposed to do despite the discomfort and the lack of confidence.
“Courage is never comfortable.” Dan Sullivan
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The 4 C’s Formula for success.
As I’ve spent the better part of my life working with entrepreneurs, I’ve come to realize that, fundamentally, the only obstacle that can keep an entrepreneur from moving forward in any area of life is a lack of courage.
You don’t move forward because you don’t feel confident about achieving the result they’re looking for, but, in fact, the confidence doesn’t come until you’ve earned it by going through courage first.
This is the reality that most entrepreneurs face throughout their careers. In many cases, you have to take action despite not feeling certain, not feeling things are right, and certainly not feeling confident.
If you look more closely at those uncertain situations you’ve conquered, you’ll see a common pattern:
- You commit to a result.
- You have the courage to move forward.
- Out of that come the capabilities needed.
- When you achieve your result, you’re rewarded with confidence.
Courage in the entrepreneurial trenches.
Very fortunately, my army career never took me near any other scary situations, but that one evening of worry and the following morning of fear and truth have stayed with me in life, a bit of wisdom I still call on when I need it.
Whenever I’m in a situation where I see I’m not moving forward, I think about grenade practice and the first sergeant.
As you’re reading this, are there situations you’re not acting on? I’d like you to think of my grenade story and recognize that it’s not necessary for everything to feel right before you move forward. Just commit yourself to it, be willing to go through a period of courage, and you’ll get the result you’re after.
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