John Bingham

What To Do When It’s Your Turn and The Courage to Start. Or, What is Courage?

My boss gave me a copy of Seth Godin’s new book, What To Do When It’s Your Turn, the day after I committed to a new business adventure with my wife yet before I told him I’d be leaving his employ by the end of the year. I felt a twang in my heart that he didn’t yet know my intention, but mainly I felt excited because I thought that receiving this book at that time was a HUGE sign of support from the universe. I have since told my boss of my plans and he’s completely supportive. Of course he is, he gave me a book about taking my turn.

What To Do When It’s Your Turn is a motivational read. It is a shot of adrenaline for those who want to take the leap and start doing their own thing on a bigger level and a nudge for others to start thinking about what they can do with their passions. It’s also a flashing warning sign for those who want to stay comfortable in the illusory safety of someone else’s dream. The format is more like a magazine or blog post–short, page or two stories and rah-rah quotes.

But there’s something that rubbed me the wrong way in this book. It is just one thing, but for me it was a big thing. In a book filled with positives Godin dropped a negative: He claims that John Bingham, someone else who took his turn, got it wrong.

Godin writes, “John got is slightly wrong. It’s not that he had the courage to start, because no courage is required to run around the block. No, the miracle is that he started” (95).

John Bingham is considered the Pied Piper of the second running boom and the author of The Courage to Start: A Guide to Running for Your Life (1999). I enjoyed Bingham’s writing as a columnist for Runner’s World. I came upon his work when I was in my early thirties — after years of sedentary life as a college and graduate student, I was getting back into running after swearing it off upon being honorably discharged from the Marine Corps a decade earlier. Bingham helped me fall in love with running, an activity I had previously only associated with training or punishment.

Godin is not the first guy to rip on Bingham for associating courage with running. Years ago one of my favorite running podcasters went on a rant about how it doesn’t take courage to run (he saw Bingham’s book in a store). I listened to part of his rant and was taken aback. I thought he was way off base and switched over to a different podcast, but the rant stayed on my mind like images of a bad accident. The guy’s anger seemed so irrational and I was drawn back to listening. I thought–or rather, hoped–that perhaps he would come to some sort of personal revelation or at least a sane conclusion. He did not. It was a rant from start to finish and it seemed to have an undercurrent of bullying. I never listened to that podcaster again.

Apparently both that podcaster and Godin have a trigger when it comes to ideas about courage. I’m not sure what that’s about, but it seems that they both have have narrow definitions of courage. Definitions that might be limited to facing enemy bullets or running into a burning building (activities that may have more to do with personality type, training, and love more than courage if you listen to the stories of people who’ve actually done these things).

What To Do When It’s Your Turn is about expressing on one’s freedom to take action, which, to my mind, may take courage. I find Godin’s judgement both surprising and problematic. Perhaps because I don’t think anyone has a right to label someone else’s action as courageous or not. Unless you give out medals based on your own definition of courage, if someone says that something they did was courageous for them, then it was. Period. End of story. This negative take on Bingham’s use of the word courage seems off key, particularly because it is in a book that encourages readers to get out there and do their own thing.

And at the risk of sounding like I’m on a rant of my own, why say no to courage and yes to miracle? Courage is taking action in the face of fear. A Miracle is something given as a divine gift or something so extraordinary it is beyond logic or probability. It seems that an author who wants to help people take action might be better off encouraging courage rather than miracles.

Chances are I would not have reacted to Godin’s comment on Bingham had I not listened to that podcast years ago. It seems odd to me that two men who are usually so encouraging of others would feel the need to condemn or criticize another guy for apply the concept of courage to running.

What’s your take in this issue?

4 replies »

  1. I agree that courage is taking action in the face of fear. That has meant and continues to mean many different things for me. Among them have been: working out at the gym even although I'm not in shape or strong, going on a canopy walk in the rainforest, being myself although I don't fit the norm, jumping off a bridge over a gorge in a free-fall swing, making even small decisions, going on a zip line, and sometimes just getting up and out of the house. In my opinion, courage is what it takes for a person to do anything that scares and/or challenges them at that particular time.

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  2. Sounds like I need to read this and we definitely need to get together! I'm curious about your new venture! (I have one too I'm going to email you about soon ;-D) From someone who started running and stopped again it takes a hell of a lot of courage to do it. I hate when people make generalizations in the negative rather than making a generalization that could potentially help encourage someone to do something new. UGH. (I agree with jompoi's last sentence especially.)

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  3. Yes! I completely agree. Thank you for sharing some of your challenges. Often for me it's the smaller, mundane things that can make me feel paralyzed. Like you said, making a small decision, getting out of the house.

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  4. I look forward to hearing about what's going on with you and getting a date on the books. I'll get my calendar out. I'm so curious about why Godin chose a negative remark when Bingham's entire message is so positive. If I don't find an answer in an interview I just might have to ask him directly.

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