Adventures in Courage: How We Can Be Super Heroes in the Real World!

Guest Post by Jennifer Brown Banks 

“Live your life with courage. It’s from this that all other virtues come.”

Young Super Hero Standing on Laundry MachinesWhen most people think about courage, they think of heroic acts like firefighter rescues, or the good Samaritan that foils a robbery attempt, or the soldier that goes to war to defend the liberties of our country.

Even when we as writers “craft” heroes or protagonists in our creative pieces, we pen them with the power to leap buildings, or defy bullets, or as possessing super human strength.

But the good news is that courage doesn’t have to be brazen or bold. We can tap into it as mere “mortals.”

Courage can be something as simple as making a tough decision to challenge the status quo. Or it can be trying something different that takes us out of our comfort zone–like quitting a job or moving to a new city.

As such, we don’t have to look to characters in the novels that we read to be inspired or to embrace it.

Here are five real life examples where we can show courage, and grow mentally and spiritually, so we become that super hero we admire!

Episodes in courage…

The Courage to Forgive Others

This is not to offend. But it amazes me that some people can hold a grudge longer than they can hold a job. Hello? I’ve heard of family members that didn’t speak to each other for years over a simple misunderstanding. Or women who “can never forgive” the man that broke their heart. And this is certainly not to trivialize anyone’s feelings; but many times we must summon the courage to look beyond other’s faults and indiscretions and simply move on. Why? Because in so doing, it allows us to be “free.” Free from anger, free from being a victim, free from wasted energy. A bitter heart blocks the beauty of life. Leave it to karma to even the score, if you feel you were unjustifiably wronged. You’ll sleep better too.

The Courage to Forgive Ourselves

Nobody’s perfect. And most of us, given the days of our youth, would probably admit that there would be some aspect of our lives that we’d do differently, if we could turn back the hands of time. We can’t. Consider that the lessons you made from those mistakes and the wisdom and strength gained, helped you to become more realized and more empathetic to other people’s experiences and pain. There’s always a trade-off in life.

The Courage to be Different

The media, fads, and cultural dictates often cause us to wear what others wear, emulate their actions, and buy into their way of thinking, in order to be socially accepted, and part of the “in crowd.” But as intelligent adults, it’s important to recognize that independent thinking, based upon our own personal values, lifestyles, personality, and goals will provide for a much better quality of life and long-term satisfaction.

The Courage to Love

Opening our hearts can be scary. Truth is, there are no guarantees in love. It renders us vulnerable. It often makes us do silly things and breaks down our defenses. It can cloud our judgment. And it can go terribly wrong and cause us to have a “achey breaky heart.” But living without love is like living in a world void of color. Can you imagine how bland that would be? Take a chance. There’s great truth to the adage: “It is better to have lived and loved than never to have loved at all.” Make 2013 a year of passion in all areas of your life.

The Courage to Stand up for our Convictions

Whether it’s the courage to speak up for someone who is unfairly being gossiped about at work, delivering our own “truths” as writers, or defending our religious beliefs, sometimes standing up for our principles really takes courage. But, you don’t need to “preach” to teach. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “Sometimes the best sermon is a good example.”

These are just five simple ways we can redefine courage in the way that we live, and realize we all have the potential to become heroes in the decisions that we make daily.

Jennifer Brown Banks is a veteran freelance writer, ghost writer and pro blogger. Her work has appeared in various blogs and magazines including: Pro Blogger, Men With Pens, Write to Done, and Technorati.

Her blog, Pen and Prosper, was recently chosen as one of “The Power 100”–Best blogs for Modern Writers in 2013.

Who’s Your Worst Critic?


The gem I take from Joyce Carol Oates today is that writers and artists are their own worst critics.

To put it more bluntly, she says self-criticism is about as good an idea as self-administered brain surgery.

She gives many examples of writers who scorned their most “successful” works and esteemed their least “successful” works. What we like in our own writing, others might dislike. What we hate, others might love.

The major blinder for many writers and artists is perfectionism. A few flaws often obscure for us the many virtues of our work.

A piece of writing might be good enough for publication and sales, and could even change a reader’s life, but it might not be good enough for us.

The down side of perfectionism is that it can be paralyzing. It can hinder you from getting anything done or published or sold. On top of that it can drive you into serious depression because your expectations are never met and you always feel inadequate.

There’s a clear distinction between always wanting to do your best and being a perfectionist.

Work your hardest, but submit the work before those deadlines pass.

Don’t slave over one piece at the expense of all those other great ideas you have, which might work out better.

To blend mostly JCO with a little bit of Auden, art and writing are “far too various to contemplate.” They are “elusive matters that will reside in the [guts] of others to judge.”

Just as you can’t hide away in a cave until you are perfect, you must share your writing when you’ve done everything you know to do.

The Truth About Inspiration According to Joyce Carol Oates

By inspiration, I don’t mean ideas. JCO is talking about something far greater than mere ideas. She’s talking about the kind of inspiration that we equate with genius, the kind that drives you to a 48hr writing marathon, the kind where you don’t even notice the passing of days.

Through a series of anecdotes about some of the world’s most celebrated writers, JCO depicts inspiration as a mysterious, spiritual, otherworldly phenomenon.

Her description alludes to a kind of spirit possession when she says, “Something not us inhabits us; something insists on speaking through us.”

But this source of inspiration, whatever it is, can’t be conjured up by formulaic rituals.

To be inspired we can only be open, sensitive, and receptive to both the fantastic and the ordinary.

She expounds on this directly by saying, “The epiphany has significance, of course, only in its evocation of an already existing (but undefined) interior state. It would be naïve to imagine that grace really falls upon us from without–one must be in a spiritual readiness for any visitation.”

More directly she says, “Images abound to those who look with reverence and are primed to see.”

I love those last three words because they apply to so much of how we exist as humans beyond any literary or artistic applications. “Primed to see” applies to our everyday relationships, politics, emotions, decisions, and the list is infinite. Think of psychological conditioning, perception is reality, we see what we believe, and so on.

So how do we make ourselves open, sensitive, and receptive? Again, the process is elusive, but JCO might provide insight in her description of Henry James: “James was one of those who knew how to keep still, and to listen.”

Perhaps that’s one avenue to priming ourselves to receive inspiration. Be still. It’s a phrase from Psalms 46:10 that I’ve not applied often enough.

Be still.

What are some of your moments of most profound inspiration?

Joyce Carol Oates on Failure

JCO essentially says that writers, are secretly attracted to failure, and they have good reason to be.

I know for the writer struggling to finish their latest story or struggling to get published this may sound crazy.

You’re probably thinking that only a writer as successful as JCO could say such a thing.

But every writer we perceive as successful has had plenty of failure to back up their success. Regardless of how much success a writer like JCO has, she admits that “Nothing gets easier with the passage of time, not even the passing of time.”

So even if we have dreams of grandiose fame and fortune, we can rest assured that living as a writer, no matter how rewarding or fulfilling it may be, will always be a demanding process. Writing is a creative act, and the act of creating doesn’t magically become easier just because we’ve been published and our most recent novel was turned into a hit movie.

I understand why we may initially recoil at the idea of embracing failure. JCO points out that we live in a society where expecting failure is deemed un-American. We’re the nation of hope and manifest destiny. This might be why she asks the question “Is the artist secretly in love with failure?”

Not a love of failure because failing is so great, but because there could be “something dangerous about success.”

I know you’re doubtful, but how often have we seen people throughout history in all fields let success go to their heads and ruin their careers? From the singer who has a smash hit and is forced to keep producing the same kind of music to appease her record label, to the athlete who’s so busy lining up endorsements and shooting commercials that she neglects training, we’ve seen countless stars implode under the pressure of their own acclaim.

Beyond a possible love of failure or leeriness of success, JCO speculates that “the addictive nature of incompletion and risk” really drives us to continue working. She adds that writers have “An affinity for risk, danger, mystery, a certain derangement of the soul; a craving for distress, the pinching of the nerves, the not-yet-voiced; the predilection for insomnia; an impatience with past selves and past creations that must be hidden from one’s admirers.”

But to get to a more practical application, she asks the question:

“Isn’t there, perhaps, a very literal advantage, now and then, to failure?–a way of turning even the most melancholy of experiences inside out, until they resemble experiences of value, of growth, of profound significance?”

I say yes, and I’m sure you can acknowledge moments in your life that initially seemed disastrous but ended positively.

JCO sheds light on four practical reasons to accept failure, if not wholly embrace it.

1:“An interesting failure has more value than a too-obvious success.” JCO quotes another writer here, but the idea is that any experience that teaches you something is more valuable than an experience that makes you feel great but doesn’t offer any wisdom.

2: “James Joyce was protected by the unpopularity of his work.” Think of it this way: In the early years, your writing may not be very good, and years from now you’ll look back with relief that you were spared the embarrassment of having your weakest work distributed to the masses. By delaying success, you increase the chances that your first introduction to the world will present a much more capable writer.

3: The more we expect a piece of writing to fail, or the less likely it is to succeed, the more freedom we take to do what we really desire and experiment, which stretches our skill and creativity as writers. These are the exercises, journaling, and general writing we do “just for fun” or “just playing around.” In these instances we are actually able to accept failure almost humorously.

4: “Success is distant and illusory, failure one’s loyal companion, one’s stimulus for imagining that the next book will be better, for, otherwise, why write?” If we reach perfection on the first try, if there’s nothing more to strive for, we lose the magic of the process.

To close, I’ll leave you with a question and answer that don’t correspond in the essay as JCO has written it, but that I think are effective together:

Will one fail? is a question less appropriate than Can one succeed?

The writer, in the end, can have only him/herself for measurement.

We know we will fail. Every writer does at several points throughout their career. But not every aspiring writer succeeds. Ultimately, however, you succeeded when you say you’ve succeeded. The standard of success is yours to set.

That’s how I understand Joyce Carol Oates’s essay on failure.

What are your views on success and failure?