On Cultivating Courage

03/22/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

This week I went to speak to a group in Arlington Heights, Illinois. I knew the primary goal of the group was to support senior executives who were looking for employment. My contact said to expect 150-200 people and he was very accurate as about 180 people were in the hall when I arrived. I asked again, "How many of these people are out of work?" "All of them" was the answer. EVERY man and woman in the group was there to hone their interview skills, network and get support as they worked to find a new position, some of them after 20 or more years in the same company.

I was deeply humbled by the gravity of the situation, especially as I heard how so many had declared bankruptcy, lost their homes and their life savings. Before I spoke I stopped to acknowledge the situation and assure them that I was offering my model - creating breakthrough results - with respect for the great effort they were already putting out. The hour passed quickly and the group was a very eager, responsive and interested assembly and I feel they'll use the tools well. I've already received some very nice comments and requests to stay in touch.

As I write this I remember a time about 25 years ago when I took my bike, a tent and a sleeping bag and flew to France. I don't remember why I wanted to, but I rode my bike from Paris to Nice in a long, circular route over a period of a few weeks. I'd camp out every night and ride most every day.

One day, on the southern coast, not quite the Riviera, I had followed a grueling path, climbing and climbing on a hot and dry day, and I didn't think I could go on. I checked the guides and the maps and it didn't seem that any camp grounds were available for miles. I was coming into a long uphill section and was not sure I'd be able to make it. I was already spent and if I stopped, I was afraid I might not be able to start again and I might have to sleep on the side of the road. That possibility offered a risk of being exposed or rousted by the police in the night.

As I doggedly passed by a beach parking lot I weaved through the later afternoon crowd of beach goers and I heard, as if someone had leaned over and whispered it quickly into my ear, "Courage". It was a French accent, of course, so it sounded more like 'Coo-rahj', but it was very clear. I looked over my shoulder to see who could have said it but no one seemed to be looking at me and I shook it off as heat exhaustion and trudged toward the hill ahead.

However, the energy of that word woke up some last reserve of energy and as I looked ahead at the hill I found a quick surge of energy to attack the hill. It was slow going, but I was still moving and that counts a lot.

The short version of this story is that a little ways up the hill I looked up just enough to see a nearly hidden sign on the side of the road. Doubtfully I followed the sign down a residential cul de sac and unbelievably found a non-listed camp ground that had been built from an old quarry. It had several levels, a fun tiki bar with super cold beer, and a local swimming hole that provided a deep dive into a cool blue cove. I stayed two nights, made a lot of friends and it turned out to be one of the best experiences and most memorable events of the whole trip.

I was so spent, discouraged and tired I never thought I'd make it that day. Then someone noticed me and threw a word, "Courage" into my ear to encourage me.

To those people I spoke to the other day and to everyone who I know or you know who is out of work or facing some kind of tough time, I say 'Courage' and I ask you to do the same. It might be your voice that gets them 'up the hill' and it just may be that whatever is up there is better than anything they've left behind.

And for whatever you are up to that needs a little bit of encouragement, or a lot: Courage, mon ami, 'Coo-rahj'.