Moving Through Fear by Embracing Courage and Convictions

Courage inspires us to find our voice; Convictions allow us to connect with our heart; Commitment is our willpower to turn our dreams into reality.

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I believe that courage and convictions are stepping stones to a meaningful life.

Having courage introduced me to many possibilities and strengthened my belief, my conviction, that there is a better world, a better life.

In my Tedx McGill, I reveal the story of my heritage. My parents were survivors of the Holocaust. Through their own acts of courage and after enduring many losses, they made residence in a new country (Canada), created a family and found jobs without speaking the language.

Fear was part of my parents’ lives and I came to the realization that my parents lived with a wartime mentality – living in fear and the what-ifs. Their fears were transmitted to their children and speaking for myself, I lived with fear and vulnerability which turned into courage and conviction.

I was taken out of school against my will before finishing high school and enrolled into secretarial college. It took great courage, at the age of 16, to plead with my parents and write a letter to the principal that this should not be allowed to happen. But it was inevitable, I graduated from secretarial college to find a job, get married, and have two children. Over a space of 20 years, although I loved my family tremendously, I felt something was missing. I knew I had to name it before I could pursue it – it was not completing my education. But I had children and my thoughts of returning to school created much angst. What if I would not be accepted into university, what if I would fail, the students were half my age….If I pursued my own dreams would I be compromising the lives of my children? My fears haunted me. With courage and support, at age 36, I enrolled into a Certificate program at Concordia University. After completing the Certificate, I went on to graduate with my Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree, and Doctorate (all in psychology). I did training in Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy and built up my practice as a psychologist. Then the yearning surfaced – I wanted to teach. I taught in many systems – psychology at Dawson College (pre-university) and in the Commerce (Management) programs at Concordia University and McGill University. At McGill University, I was blessed to become an Adjunct Professor, Coordinator of Courses, and Distinguished Teacher. However, having known success, once again, the yearning surfaced. I applied and became certified as an Executive and Professional Coach (University of Texas at Dallas). Shortly afterwards, at Harvard Law School, I became Certified in Negotiation.

How could this have happened to the girl who had left school at 16?

Fear had become my driver. According to Viktor Frankl in his acclaimed book – Man’s Search for Meaning, in order to live an authentic meaningful life, you need to walk through the fear (1).

Through the years of academia, I learned valuable lessons:

1. I learned to override or reframe those inner negative voices.

2. I became far more self-aware (which I believe is a gift). I had the conviction (the belief) that whatever I tried, I would be successful.

3. I learned that fear is an opportunity to introspect, analyze the fear and change my mindset. Your mindset is the lens through which you see the world.

Fear is a reaction; Courage is a decision (Sir Winston Churchill)

Fear is the oldest emotion. It is wired into your DNA as an evolutionary tool to help you to survive. Fear can be learned through direct experience when there is a threat but it can also be learned by observing others. Are we triggered by fear? The answer is yes. Fear breeds discomfort and uncertainty and it stifles motivation. Fear also presents us with self-limiting beliefs that result in resistance. So why do people succumb to fear and live a life of mediocrity while others gain a mindset to succeed. It is because our brain is wired to overreact to uncertainty with fear and it is our reaction that either compels us to move forward or step back. This is when we make a choice.

Working through fear requires courage and becoming aware of our self-doubts. In order to embrace courage, we need to go beyond our comfort zone and go forward with a courage action.

Courage involves intentions. With each intention, we need to set goals to achieve our intention. Expanding your reason to change your life becomes a motivator – you come to know the reason that you want change. Through my own experiences, I learned to trust my own instincts on the path to change.

It takes courage to conquer but inevitably it takes courage to succeed. Throughout my journey, what became very evident was that I needed a different mindset – a growth mindset, the belief that I can grow and succeed. I realized, as well, that I was resilient and that I had grit.

All my learning and experiences made me a better Psychologist, Professor, and Executive Coach. In general, I became more knowledgeable and wiser. My desire was to inspire others to believe that they have the insight and courage to act beyond the narrow confines which they often created in themselves. I helped others to understand that courage becomes operative if you have the conviction (the belief) that you will succeed.

Courage is not the absence of fear; Courage is fear walking

(Dr. Susan David)

So what makes a courageous person?

1. Courageous people are ambitious but they are also risk-takers. They may feel vulnerable but yet they start new projects.

2. Courageous people have convictions (the belief) that they can succeed and this helps them to create an intention and put a plan into place. Having conviction starts to dissolve the fear of inadequacy.

3. Courage is channeled into commitment. Courageous people expect the best of themselves and, through that, fully commit to their objectives while moving through obstacles that get in their way. They do this with determination and persistence.

A final valuable lesson – fear is illuminated because of our fear that if we take on a new challenge, like being a student or starting a new job, we will have difficulty remembering. I heard this time and time again from students and with clients. Memory is one of the key factors of success. As we know, knowledge is power and this was my lesson to others –

Our subconscious mind (our memory bank) stores our beliefs, our previous experiences, our memories, and our skills. Therefore, our subconscious mind stores our required mental habits. Thus people act, take actions based on automatic mechanisms that include knowledge, motives, values, emotions and habits without conscious thought. When you study or learn new skills, those are stored in your subconscious mind to be retrieved when needed (2)

I have told you my story of fear and vulnerability that turned into courage, convictions, and commitment.

When you hear stories of courage, you surely feel inspired.

Let that story be yours!

(1) Frankl, V. E. 1. (2006). Man’s search for meaning. Boston: Beacon Press

(2) Peter M. Gollwitzer and John A. Bargh (Eds.), The Psychology of Action: Linking Cognition and Motivation to Behavior. Guilford. pp. 365-384 (1996)

YouTube – Dr. Zina Suissa Topic: Courage and Conviction

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