Courage Personified: Viktor Frankel’s iconic book of survival reminds us of the power of both courage and hope

Last week was one of those weeks where you feel like you’re hanging on just by sheer force of will. Unintentionally (though it could have perhaps been anticipated), a perfect storm of tasks and expectations came together that threatened to overwhelm me. My students had their opera performance week–this alone is always an intense time of preparation, troubleshooting, calming frayed nerves, crisis management and hand-holding. Added to this was the fact that we were presenting a new piece, a co-commission with our industry partner, Loose Tea Music Theatre: a new pirate opera that featured non-binary characters, called Borderless. Investing in new work is daunting enough in itself–the number of variables, the inherent risks are huge. But add to the mix that you are working with young people, not seasoned professionals, and the fact that the demands of a curriculum and schedules at a university are not necessarily the same as those of a professional company, and you have a lot of competing interests. So there was THAT. In addition, I was preparing Pierrot Lunaire for performance (mentioned in my most recent post), albeit in a reduced version (14 instead of 21 numbers). I’m not going to go into the details other than to say that my planned video to accompany the performance (which my daughter Alice and I filmed, quite gleefully–if stressfully–one Sunday afternoon and evening) didn’t come off as planned. And finally, my proposal for a new master’s degree at Laurier, which has been at least 10 years in the making, had a deadline of Friday noon. Which may explain why I didn’t post a blog last week?

Thus, the subject of this week’s blog: Call to Courage. I take this loosely from BrenĂ© Brown’s work, which regular readers will note has been the subject of a leadership course I finished up last week, Dare to Lead. One of our tasks in the course was to identify what our individual “call to courage” is in leadership, and I settled on mine as “the ability to have hard conversations and engage openly and wholeheartedly in conflict”. Throughout these past two weeks, I was called upon again and again to have hard conversations: with colleagues, with friends, with students. Sometimes it was for me to set boundaries with others, and stand my ground. Other times it was to hear the complaints and concerns of others, and try to respond to them without becoming defensive (always a challenge!). Sometimes it was simply to have a conversation with myself, and remind myself that I have reserves of courage and resilience that can see me through and over even the greatest obstacles.

I have this to report from this mini-journey of courage: I can do hard things. I have strengths that I often don’t realize I have until I’m called upon to use them. I also have a team of people around and behind me, whose energies I can enlist and harness. Above all, I’ve learned that courage is not gained or owned on one occasion, but is ongoing. While I have been able to pause momentarily after each moment of success: the wonderfully thrilling performance of Pierrot, the exciting premiere of our operas where every student shone, the meeting of the important deadline, the successful presentation of a proposal (phase 1 of a VERY long journey, but still!), the gratifying class recital where every student demonstrated their growth; the journey continues until the very end. To be courageous means to continue to show up, day in and day out, and bring my best self. I will fail. I will fall. I will rise again. I will rise strong.