What Good is Potential Without Courage?

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“One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest.” – Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou once said, “One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential.” With courage comes the ability to consistently practice any other kind of virtue, including kindness, honesty, and generosity. Our potential is enhanced by practicing these virtues.

A major barrier people face when exploring their life and career goals is getting stuck thinking only about what they don’t want. They become paralyzed by fear, constantly imagining how unpleasant each future possibility could be; thus, many people never bother to step into a role that might lead them down a fulfilling path. To break free from that mindset, you must start looking at who you want to be, not at just what you don’t want. Think of it like being in love; if you can find someone that embodies all your best qualities, it’s likely your aspirations will fall in line behind them.

We live in a world where we often rely on others for feedback, guidance, and validation. As adults, we’re told that everyone has their own path, but maybe it’s time to revisit what that means. The act of asking for help is empowering in itself. It requires vulnerability, which requires courage; so, who are you if you don’t have courage? You are your own voice, and you must trust yourself enough to allow it to be heard. Being alone in your mindset doesn’t make you lonely or weak, so don’t be afraid to listen only to yourself from time-to-time when you find yourself justified.

But, you must also find balance in your courageous fight to share your viewpoint. It can be a bit too easy to feel that there isn’t anyone else whose opinion matters more than yours. The truth is, other opinions and viewpoints matter, too. Even if others are wrong, objectively or subjectively, you must understand why and how they came to these conclusions. Maybe you’ve missed something yourself, and learning to be flexible in your views and opinions is just as important as fighting for your own right to have these things for yourself.

So, what Angelou is really getting at is each of us is born with potential, but it is courage that we must learn in order to start acting on said potential. If you can’t learn courage, it becomes very difficult to learn to be kind, honest, or generous. There are those who seem to embody these principles, yet are just giving shallow impressions of having such virtues. What may appear to be honest could be a half-truth meant to mislead from other misdeeds; what seems to be kindness could be a veil for trying to seek out a gullible mark; what may appear a generous act is possibly just an opportunity for a major tax break. Those who give false impressions of owning these virtues are lacking in actual courage, but unfortunately, most people are only concerned with surface-level matters and let these somewhat obvious falsehoods slide.

But, if you truly have courage, you aren’t going to waver from your principles. Even if you find your opinion is not well-adjusted enough to stand up to reality, that doesn’t mean you’re wrong to know when to stand your ground. Potential is energy within you ready to be unleashed, but without principles with which to harness it, you’re not going to make the best of it. Courage is something that is learned from human interactions, disagreements, and hardships. The other virtues must follow behind courage, lest they become hollow shells for display purposes, masks which we can wear in awkward or tense situations.

Have you truly learned courage, as in the ability to do something that frightens one, or to find strength in the face of pain or grief? This doesn’t mean we can’t have moments of weakness; in fact, it is in such moments in which we can find our innermost potential for courage, which then can unlock further potential within each of us. As with many things that Maya Angelou wrote over her lifetime, we’re given a lot to digest here. But, these are my few thoughts on this quote for now.

What do you take away from this Maya Angelou quote on potential?

Related: Each of Us is Born for Greatness | How Do You Find Your Essential Purpose? | On Divine Accidents | Seeing Only the Good in Others |

Writing words, spreading love, Amelia Desertsong primarily writes creative nonfiction articles, as well as dabbling in baseball, Pokemon, Magic the Gathering, and whatever else tickles her fancy.
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