This Is What Real Courage Looks Like

by Tom Koulopoulos

This Is What Real Courage Looks Like

Have the courage to do this one thing and you’ll never look at giving up in the same way again.

“…never give in, never give in, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.” – Winston Churchill

If you’ve followed me on inc.com you’re well aware of my attitude towards giving up; in a word, DON’T. I’m ridiculously tenacious–and it’s not always a good thing! But I just had a conversation with a friend that caused me to reframe my view. Stick with me for a few minutes and I’ll share a story that might just change the way you look at giving up.

Courage

It definitely takes courage to not give up, enormous courage that often defies logic, rational argument, and the advice of friends and family. But sometimes giving up is not a choice you make but one that’s made for you.

“Customs control for the future will stop you at the border every time if you’re packing the past.”

Life throws all sorts of circumstances our way, and at times you may simply not be able to hold on to a dream any longer. The reasons may be well outside of your control; financial, emotional, illness, or simply burn out. Nobody can tell you when the point will come when you absolutely have to let go, but the fact is you may have no say in the matter. But what you can choose in every case is whether you will give in and let circumstances rob you of what inspires you and gives you hope. The only person who can take that away from you is, yes, YOU!

Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda

I’m not speaking from an ivory tower on this. I’ve been there and I’ve done the coulda, shoulda, woulda song and dance on many occasions. The life of a business owner is rich in opportunities to do that on a daily basis. Hell, who am I kidding, all of our lives are! While you want to learn from your mistakes and life’s curve balls, there is a line you can’t cross when carrying the baggage of the past; it’s the line that separates the past from the future. Customs control for the future will stop you at the border every time if you’re packing the past.

But it’s not easy letting go.

When I built my first company in 1989 I thought I had truly blown it. I had put all the cash I had into it and about $40K of credit card debt. My partner and I had worked 24/7 for nearly two years to build the software and the business. We found a buyer for the business and worked for nearly a year to sell it. But the offer was paltry. I created countless spreadsheets and models to convince the buyer that it was worth so much more. None of it worked. In the end we had run out of cash and credit and had to take the offer. I ruminated for weeks over the fact that I could have, and should have, held out for more. To be blunt, I was pissed at myself. I was sitting on a small pile of cash and regretting it, wondering how I could have made the pile even bigger. All of this well after the transaction had occurred. I was angry with myself. I kept living in the past as though it would yield to my desires and intellect. Yes, in retrospect it sounds absolutely ridiculous. But, at the time, it obsessed me.

“…while the past no longer belonged to me, the future sure as hell did.”

It took a while but eventually it struck me that all of that effort to not give up was exactly what was keeping me from moving forward, and giving up was ironically the opportunity to launch my next business; while the past no longer belonged to me, the future sure as hell did. Just because I was naive enough to get seduced into a bad deal didn’t mean I wasn’t smart enough to learn from it and move on.

Once I turned that corner I never looked back. That small pile of cash soon became the seed for a business that would grow to be an Inc 500 company. There was never a need to look in the rearview mirror, I wasn’t living in the past, I didn’t need to, I had launched myself into a vision for the future that was so much greater.

Did I give up? Yes! I gave up on reliving the past, on dwelling on my failures, on blaming myself and others, and instead I doubled down on the future. Although I had to give up I wasn’t going to give in.

It would be the perfect ending to this article to tell you that I’ve learned my lesson and hold myself out as a role model for living in the moment, but I’d be lying if I did. I’ve returned to that place of coulda, shoulda many times since, and I’m sure I will again. But each time I’ve ultimately bounced back into the future with an even greater enthusiasm. Maybe one of these times I won’t. There’s always that risk. But without the risk the excitement wouldn’t be there either. The reality is that we are happiest and most fulfilled when we are convinced that our greatest achievements, our best experiences, our biggest successes are still the ones that lie before us, not behinds us.

Bottom line? Giving up is not always a choice you’re given, sometimes it’s made for you. But giving in is your choice! And not giving in is what courage, success, and happiness are all about.

This article was originally published on Inc.

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Thomas KoulopoulosTom Koulopoulos is the author of 10 books and founder of the Delphi Group, a 25-year-old Boston-based think tank and a past Inc. 500 company that focuses on innovation and the future of business. He tweets from @tkspeaks.

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