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How to Build Courage, According to History’s Great Minds

Many of history’s great thinkers have had wise words to say about courage. Maya Angelou called it the most important of all the virtues. Anaïs Nin observed that it can either shrink or expand the scope of our lives. And Mark Twain famously described it as the mastery rather than the absence of fear.

That last insight in particular has helped reframe our mindset on just what, exactly, makes someone brave. Courage is finding the strength deep within ourselves to do something we need to do even when — and especially if — it’s hard. It’s pushing through despite feeling afraid.

It may feel counterintuitive, but courage is often built by doing the very things that scare us, whether it’s getting ready to give an important presentation, making a major life change, or trying something totally new. Here are 10 quotes to help build up courage when we need it most.

You must do the thing you think you cannot do.
— Eleanor Roosevelt

Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
— Steve Jobs

Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.
— Brené Brown

Take chances, make mistakes. That's how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave.
— Mary Tyler Moore

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.
— Nelson Mandela

At night our fear is strong. But in the morning, in the light, we find our courage again.
— Ziauddin Yousafzai, father of activist Malala Yousafzai

A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.
— John Augustus Shedd, author

You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.
— William Faulkner

The scariest moment is always just before you start. After that, things can only get better.
— Stephen King

Hello, fear. Thank you for being here. You're my indication that I'm doing what I need to do.
— Cheryl Strayed, author

We could never learn to be brave and patient, if there were only joy in the world.
— Helen Keller

Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.
— Amelia Earhart

A big part of being confident is being brave, and you can’t be brave unless you’re scared.
— Bo Burnham, comedian

Courage is very important. Like a muscle, it is strengthened by use.
— Ruth Gordon, actress and writer

Promise me you'll always remember: You're braver than you believe.
— A.A. Milne, author

Photo credit: Bettmann via Getty Images

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About the Author
Nicole Villeneuve
Nicole is a writer, thrift store lover, and group-chat meme spammer based in Ontario, Canada.
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