Taking good risks: Teaching courage by example

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Teaching by example. We talk about it often. But how do we teach courage when adult life can often appear mundane or monotonous? Sometimes, we just have to do something out of the ordinary.

Just as our coach did with us, when I work with my coaching clients on envisioning their best year for 2008, I ask them to “name their year.” For confidentiality sake, I won’t divulge what my clients have come up with but I’ll let you know my own personal label for 2008; The Year of Taking Risks. Not stupid risks (well, I’ll certainly try not to make those) but risks that push me. In keeping with that theme, each week, I make sure that I do something to get me out of my comfort zone.

We’re all so busy. Who has time for risk-taking? But in order to evolve, it’s important to put yourself out there, don’t you think? Adulthood can get a little too comfortable and predictable—and that makes us get stale.

I know Jason told our Powerful Words Family that I earned the part of Rosie in my community theater’s rendition of “Bye Bye Birdie.” In fact, this weekend is opening weekend and last night was opening night. It’s thrilling and scary and fun all rolled up into each performance. Many of the responses we received were of surprise or shock– who knew? It seems so “out of character,” right? But I figure, sometimes out of character means strengthening character.

It was only a few short month’s ago that I finished playing the part of Joy, the wicked stepsister, in Cinderella. Performing in both plays was part of taking risks—not just because I tried out for the plays, but because of what I need to do with the characters to make them interesting.

Perhaps like many of you, I consider myself a pretty focused, happy, friendly, straight-laced person. As adults, we often find ourselves needing to be pretty serious during the typical day—and we loose the silliness in our life. Even working with kids doesn’t always save us from being, well, a bit mundane.

Landing the part of Joy in Cinderella meant I needed to be everything opposite of my norm; miserable, ridiculous, confrontational, over-the-top and yes, absolutely silly. When I first started rehearsals, I remember feeling uncomfortable. The director pushed me and I started taking risks. It was hard to get out of rehearsals without laughing a good belly laugh at the craziness of it all. I found the humor in Joy, and more importantly, it helped me to find the humor in myself.

Rosie has helped me uncover another side of myself that can sometimes be squashed in the day to day. Yes, she can be brazen and sassy, but I’m referring more to what it took for me to play the part. Courage. The role calls for a lot of singing—sometimes being left on stage for minutes at a time while the spotlight focuses just on one person; me. The opportunity reminded me about putting confidence and courage into action. We all talk about doing these things—but do we really challenge ourselves?

It seems to me, and I hope you agree, that our students have this same opportunity when they join your academies. Perhaps in their regular life they’re shy, or they’re perceived as “not the type” to show up at a school like yours. You know who I’m talking about, right? At first, they might seem timid or unsure of themselves. But over time, something clicks and they aren’t just going through the motions anymore. The activity gets into their blood, and the process brings out a side of them that they might not have even known existed. What a gift.

Let’s encourage our students, staff, and ourselves to take the kind of risks that allow them to uncover sides of themselves that they haven’t seen for a while—or maybe even a side that they never knew existed. This makes us better students and teachers and more dynamic, more interesting people.

Here’s to doing something out-of-character that builds character!

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