When we think of courage, we usually think of someone like William Wallace (Mel Gibson) in Braveheart.

With adrenaline surging and arms pumping, the Scottish rebel leads his outnumbered men to defeat British troops.

He slays so many that he gains almost super-human status. His enemies are terrified even before they encounter him.

And even in the face of an excruciating, humiliating death, he refuses to beg for mercy.

That's exactly the kind of courage entrepreneurs need when they're getting started.

Explosive. Fierce. Loud.

You need all that to power you through the devastating doub ts, disadvantages, and difficulties.

But to keep going long enough to succeed, you need a different kind of courage. Braveheart courage works for sprints, but business is not a sprint; it's a marathon.

Mary Anne Radmacher Quote Courage

Shawshank Courage

To demonstrate this kind of courage, let's look at another movie from the 1990s: The Shawshank Redemption, starring Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne.

Dufresne, a bank vice-president, receives two life sentences for the murder of his wife and her lover--a crime he didn't commit.

In the midst of oppression and violence, he cobbles together a life in prison. He gets funding for the library. Makes friends. Helps the prison guards with their taxes. He even gains the warden's trust enough to launder money for him.

Unbeknown to everybody, after the lights go out, Dufresne takes his nine-inch rock hammer and quietly chips away a tunnel from his cell to the sewer.

One day, he crawls through the tunnel.

It takes 19 years, but he gains his freedom and lives his dream of moving to a small fishing village in Mexico.

That's Shawshank courage. Quiet. Unwavering. Patient.

That's the kind of courage entrepreneurs need to finish the race.

Shawshank Courage in Real Life

Shawshank courage sustained me after my startup was wiped out, so that I could get back up again and build another business.

But there are other entrepreneurs who epitomize Shawshank courage to a greater degree:

Jon Morrow, founder of SmartBlogger, built a business empire with only his computer and internet connection, even though he's paralyzed from the neck down.

John Ocean, only son of the founder of Baskin-Robbins, turned his back on the ice cream empire to grow his own food and live on $500 a year in the 1960s. He went on to write the international bestseller, Diet for a New America: How Your Food Choices Affect Your Health, Happiness and the Future of Life on Earth, and today promotes an "environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling and socially just" lifestyle.

CVS took a $2 billion hit on sales after it stopped selling cigarettes and tobacco-related products in all its stores. Larry J. Merlo, President and CEO, said "the sale of tobacco products is inconsistent with our purpose - helping people on their path to better health."

Whether you're overcoming great odds, shunning the easy way out, or standing up for what you believe in, Shawshank courage will see you through.

Find Your Courage

Courage doesn't come easily. When yours is faltering, try the following:

  • Recall your vision, your big reason why, your ultimate goal. It's worth whatever difficulties you're going through now.
  • Think about your prospects and customers and the impact you want to make in their lives. They're waiting for you.
  • Consider your family and loved ones. They love and support you. They have faith in you and want you to succeed. Remember the lifestyle you want to provide them.

So keep digging away at that tunnel, one day at a time. Your dream life awaits at the end.

All brave men are fools. Robert Frost