What I have learned about courage

We don’t always connect the dots between our personal lives and career, even when things can make much more sense when we do.

On this occasion of what would have been my Mom’s 65th birthday, I want to connect a few dots.

Dubbed the “Indian Martha Stewart” by her friends, my Mom was always experimenting with new ways to do things, prepare recipes, and innovate. She loved and sought to excel in nearly every part of life. Her diagnosis of cancer, fight, and passing 12 years ago impacted nearly every aspect of our family’s lives.

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And it also gave me a new relationship to fear and courage. I learned that courage is made easier when you have little to fear. Saying goodbye to one of the most important people in our lives forced me to confront one of my greatest fears. When we come face-to-face with a fear and must find a way through it, one of the unintended consequences is the neutralizing of that fear.

I have spent the better part of my professional life striving to create and co-create a meaningful career in social impact — a space that wasn’t even a known term when I was in college and graduate school. It has, at times, been the source of uncertainty and challenge, and an opportunity to face fear and find courage.

As I think back to my Mom confronting the fear of fighting a disease she could not see — I feel her courage. In thinking through more than a decade in the lives of our family, extended family, and friends in which we had to accept the finality of her loss and find ways to move forward — I feel our collective courage. In thinking back just six months to the unexpected lymphoma diagnosis of my sweet 8-year-old pup and the numerous rounds of chemo she endured and the uncanny similarities between her journey and passing and my Mom’s — I feel her courage, and mine.

And then if I look, with the same lens, at my increasingly unwavering belief that I can serve best when partnering with mission-driven initiatives and institutions and collaborating to help make social entrepreneurship more accessible and actionable to individuals, teams, and especially students — I find that my fear of taking a less-traveled path subsides, leaving my courage intact.

With this lens, as I look to see unthinkable, unimaginable, unexpected challenges, fears, and setbacks that those around us have faced and found ways to keep moving forward, I find that accepting fear’s role in our lives can become one of our greatest strengths and eventual sources of courage.

We remember my Mom on her birthday and recall her incredible gifts, talents, and the lessons she taught us.

And I am reminded that in our observation of the world around us, and our own lives, we can choose to find reasons to fear or examples of courage. I hope to, at least mostly, choose the latter. Recognizing courage in others tends to help me find and realize my own.

I know my incredible network negotiate fear and courage regularly too. Would love to hear what gives you courage.

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photos: L (my Mom), R top (nephews, siblings, Dad), R middle and lower (celebrating Mom at one of her favorite spots)

* a few more photos can be found here.

Neetal Parekh is the founder of Innov8social, author of 51 Questions on Social Entrepreneurship, host of The Impact Podcast, and convener of Impactathon®. She consults with social entrepreneurs, companies, and institutions to help them reach their impact potential. On Twitter and social media: @innov8social

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