In 2006, Benjamin Mee bought a zoo. Literally a zoo. It was broken down and in desperate need of a caring owner. Mee and his family were struggling too. Things hadn’t been going well for them either. But in one scene—immortalized by Matt Damon in the movie version of Mee’s book, We Bought a Zoo—Mee explains to his son that our lives are defined by the moments when we put ourselves out there. When we take a risk that, if we had thought about too much or been too deliberate about, we’d never have been capable of taking.
“You know,” he said, “sometimes all you need is twenty seconds of insane courage. Just literally twenty seconds of just embarrassing bravery. And I promise you, something great will come of it.”
We’ve talked before about how to teach our kids to be brave (here, here, and here). This idea of breaking courage down into little pieces is a very good one for us parents to pass on to our own kids. A person isn’t brave, generally. We can only be brave, specifically, in the moment. This is as true for us and our kids or Benjamin Mee’s son as it is for the most decorated soldiers who have ever served in the military.
If you read the citations for many Medal of Honor recipients, for instance, the action that rises to the level of heroism is almost always just a moment. It’s usually not the fighting off of 12 insurgents for 5 hours—it’s the sprinting across an open plain for 20 seconds, exposed to enemy gunfire on three sides, to come to the aid of a fallen comrade.
Just literally twenty seconds of insane, embarrassing bravery. That’s what courage is. So teach them to give themselves a few seconds of courage. Tell them something great will come of it. Promise them.
P.S. The aim of Ryan Holiday’s book, Courage is Calling: Fortune Favors The Brave, is to teach you how to model bravery. If you haven’t already, pick up a copy of Courage is Calling—we also have signed copies available over in the Daily Stoic store.