I remember hearing this story from my 12th grade English teacher at Atlantic City High School and it made a profound impact on my understanding of courage.
“Each year millions of students apply to colleges, some get into the college of their choice while others compromise and settle for something less than what they wanted. We’ve all applied to our respective choice of college and we know the significance of getting our application accepted. You know the importance of writing an essay which exemplifies your point through your writing. It is also known that if your application is not accepted then you forfeit both your chance to enter the college in that semester and your application fee which you might have saved money for; for a long while. So be cautious as you write your essays and make an impression on the judges like others won’t. Let me tell you a story which will particularly interest you at this point of your lives…
Some years back Rutgers University’s posed an interesting essay question to their applicants. The heading of the essay section read:
“What is courage? (State in less than 5000 words)”
Most applicants wrote long and elaborate explanations of what courage meant to them and how they experienced it. Each prospective student’s essay exceed the next in both valour and explanation of what courage ‘really’ is. But not one boy’s essay, he was different. He sought to do more than just tell the judges what is courage. He knew full well what was at stake. It was his reputation, his time and most importantly (at that time in his life) his money. He was from an average middle class family who couldn’t afford an Ivy League college and this may be his only chance.
The boy sat for hours with his pen in his hand and his hand on the drafting paper. Waiting for some sort of revelation to come to him. And finally it did. He poured his heart out on the paper, folded it, attached the cheque of $200 and turned it in.
Weeks later, at the university, an esteemed college professor sits in his office, reading application forms to provide his consent towards the applicant’s acceptance. Tired and exhausted of reading the dictionary definition of courage, he lifts up another envelope. Opens it to find the application form, the cheque and a sheet of otherwise empty drafting paper stating just the following words:
“This is courage”
I leave you to your deductions of what happened next…” said my English teacher.
The class was silent because we were taught our very first lesson on the importance ‘showing’ rather than ‘telling’.
I tell you this story not to exemplify what courage is but to elaborate on the importance of leading by example. So that the next time you’re tempted to tell someone to do a certain thing, you’re also willing to show them how it’s done. I believe it is the single most important characteristic of every great leader; he never had to lead. He just had to BE. And by being, he found people who would follow. Such is the nature of authentic leadership which goes beyond the number of twitter followers one has or if he is a Linkedin influencer or not. Because he has the courage to stand up and say ‘follow me’ through his actions and not just his words. In most cases, such are the people whom the world fails to understand. People that the world wishes didn’t exist but also couldn’t do without. They are the crazies, crazy enough to still believe in the power of showing rather than telling. Crazy enough to believe that anything the mind of man can conceive it can achieve, crazy enough to believe that they can change the world. And truth be told, they’re the only ones who’ve ever changed the world.