Book Summary: Courage is Calling by Ryan Holiday

Quick Summary: This book shows us how a courageous life can be lived and challenges us to be courageous as well by providing examples from ancient and modern history.

Courage is the foundation of greatness. Everything great and grand is bought with courage, from military victories to artistic triumphs, from social commitment to entrepreneurship.

But that does not mean that courage is an unattainable virtue, a trait reserved for a moral elite. Courage can lead to amazing things in life. But it is also part of everyday life.

You don’t have to read the whole book if you don’t have time. This summary will provide you with an overview of everything you can learn from this book.

Without further ado, let’s get started.

Lesson 1: Fears can be overcome with logic

For what reason do we not act boldly? In what way do we all become cowards? Fear, or phobos, as it was called in ancient Greek, is the crucial noun here. It’s true that fear is the enemy of courage, but it’s also what makes courage possible.

Fearlessness isn’t a prerequisite for bravery. It doesn’t at all mean being blind to potential threats. Being brave means facing your fears. Understanding risks and overcoming them is what it means.

Some people aren’t afraid, but even they’re afraid sometimes. Their uniqueness is that they overcome it. I mean, how? Let’s take a look at ancient Greece to answer this question.

Perhaps no other Greek statesman was as famous as Pericles. He was a proud Athenian who was given command of the city’s armed forces several times during his long political career.

On one occasion, the men under his command experienced a sudden cold. For what reason? Storms, not an impending invasion or dwindling supplies, scared off Pericles’ troops.

Can anything be learned from this storm? Astonishing lightning and deafening thunder – what did they mean? The men perceived the stormy weather as a terrible omen. In contrast, Pericles didn’t qualify. Pericles gathered his troops, picked up two boulders and began furiously pounding them. The sound of the breaking rocks echoed loudly and menacingly, much like that of thunder.

Although Pericles didn’t have the scientific background to give a full explanation of thunder, he still managed to prove his point. Just like the rocks it broke, thunder was just the sound of the wind hitting it. Why couldn’t the boys see that there was nothing to be afraid of?

In this case, the lesson is simple. Like Pericles, you should examine your fears as they arise. Many dangers lose their menace when they’re brought into the bright light of a rational mind.

It’s important to examine your fears so that they don’t cause you unnecessary grief. Discovering and analysing them is the challenge. It’s possible that some of your fears are well-founded. However, some are no more dangerous than the sound of distant thunder or the collision of rocks.

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Lesson 2: Fears should not be ignored – they should be defined

Lack of clarity increases anxiety. When details are clear, boundaries can be drawn. The size of an object can be determined by seeing its boundaries or recognizing its outline. It is much more difficult to assess the threat and keep it under control when something is vague and indeterminate.

When you are afraid, your mind tends to exaggerate the importance of threats and dangers. It is overly dramatic, misleading, and ambiguous. However, ignoring your worries does not help either. On the contrary, you need to think about them: only then can you define them, weigh them, and get a sense of their true size and magnitude.

That is, do not turn away from what makes you uncomfortable. That would only make them seem more threatening. Look at your fears long enough to delineate them and see their true size.

Writer and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss recommends a process called fear setting, which involves examining and articulating the fears that limit us in life. It’s a good idea – and it’s been around in one form or another for much longer than you might think.

The Stoics, a group of philosophers active in the time of ancient Greece and Rome, practiced something very similar. The Roman Stoic philosopher and writer Seneca advocated what he called premeditatio malorum, or the anticipation of bad things to come.

This method is similar to fear-mongering in that it involves imagining terrible things that might happen. The idea is that if you get to know your fears better, they lose some of their power over you. Seneca believed that the most painful blow is the one for which the victim was not prepared.

John D. Rockefeller was aware of this and often used the phrase “Suppose the oil fields dry up” to test his own assumptions. That is, what contingency plans have you made in case your company suddenly collapses? Thanks to his ability to think quickly and adapt, Rockefeller became wealthy during the market panics that hit the nineteenth-century economy.

Thinking about your worst fears will not magically make you rich, but it could help you stop giving them so much power and prepare yourself in case they ever arise.

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Lesson 3: Courage can begin with small steps

Images of valor usually refer to single, heroic acts, such as a warrior plunging headlong into a raging battle or an upstanding citizen refusing to kneel before a tyrant.

Sometimes it takes a little courage to really make a difference. In some cases, the scenery is truly picturesque and grand. But that’s not always the case. Small, seemingly insignificant acts can often be the most courageous.

Listen to Aristotle, who argued that character traits develop over time. Just as we hone our skills as builders and harpists through repeated practice, we hone our courage through repeated acts of bravery. The first steps need not be monumental.

Florence Nightingale was intimidated by the prospect of beginning a career in medicine. Her options as a nineteenth-century English lady were limited by strict standards of decency and good manners; she couldn’t become a nurse, for example, because that was beneath the dignity of a lady of her station.

So she didn’t begin by telling herself that she was going to change the world. She didn’t tell herself or her loved ones that she’d become one of Britain’s most famous female figures. Instead, she took baby steps by agreeing to spend a summer working in a medical facility.

And from that first, albeit tentative, act, everything else followed. Never miss the opportunity to make a practical beginning, no matter how small, as Nightingale herself urged. It’s possible for boldness to grow from quiet beginnings.

However, one shouldn’t hesitate too long. For Thomas Edison, life was too short to spend it on trivialities. Somehow, he was always drawn to the most challenging tasks. Edison and Nightingale need not be mutually exclusive, however. It’s possible that they can reconcile.

Don’t worry if the first things you do to be brave aren’t big. But make sure they’re small steps in the right direction if you want them to make a difference. Even if Nightingale only worked for a single summer, she was already contributing to the industry that would become her hallmark.

It’s okay to take small steps, but make sure you’re aiming for something that’s the potential to grow into something significant.

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Lesson 4: It takes less than a minute to perform a pivotal act of courage

The arrest of Martin Luther King Jr. took place in Atlanta, Georgia, in October 1960. What exactly was his offense? He had attempted to dine as a black man in a restaurant in a department store in the city.

Because Southern authorities despised King, they immediately took advantage of their opportunity once he was in their custody. King was denied bail, arrested on other charges, and taken to state prison, where he was to serve four months in the prison’s notorious chain gang.

Coretta Scott King turned to then-presidential candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon for protection for her husband after receiving death threats. Both candidates needed to win over black voters to win the election, but neither could afford to lose the support of Southern voters. Will either of them have the courage to help her?

Well, Nixon had overseen civil rights reforms under President Eisenhower and was friends with King. He should have supported King, and he had every reason to. But he did not.

On the contrary, it was Kennedy who rushed to his aid. Kennedy first contacted the governor of Georgia, then King’s wife. At the same time, he had his brother Robert Kennedy call the Alabama judge and ask him to release King.

King was also released. He also let everyone know how Kennedy had helped him out in a pinch. By a margin of a little more than half a percentage point, or 35,000 votes in two crucial states, Kennedy was elected president the following month.

Kennedy won the election thanks to a series of bold but straightforward moves. When Nixon betrayed King, Kennedy risked everything to do the right thing and, ultimately, the strategically necessary thing.

The same quick calls could have been made by Nixon. At most, it would have taken less than a minute. But by failing to seize the moment, he gave his opponent a golden opportunity to prove his mettle.

Being brave can take as little as 30 seconds of your time. Occasionally, you may need a few minutes, the time it takes to write an email, dial a phone number, or utter the immortal words “I quit.”

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