What Courage Really Takes, and It’s Probably Not What You Think

EP Alumni

You can choose courage or you can choose comfort, but you can’t choose both.

Brené Brown’s insights during her keynote at the recent NewSchools Venture Fund Summit resonated deeply with me and with hundreds of other education leaders, educators, and education champions in the room. (They’ve also resonated with more than 19 million people who’ve viewed her TED talk.)

Courage is one of Education Pioneers’ four core values. To me, courage is the value from which all others flow. It takes guts to take a risk and challenge the status quo.

But Brené shared a perspective on courage that I hadn’t considered before.

Courage requires vulnerability.

In fact, she pointed out, vulnerability is vital to everything good in life. And she meant everything: creativity, innovation, growth, love, you name it. Being vulnerable is fundamental to creating lives full of meaning and purpose.

In education, where our work on behalf of millions of young people in our country is incredibly personal, it’s imperative that we approach our work with the courage it takes to succeed.  

After hearing Brené speak, I now also believe it’s crucial to embrace and even cultivate our vulnerability to do this work well. Going out on a limb, getting an idea rejected (rightly or wrongly), and moving out of our comfort zone are all necessary for moving the work of education forward.  These acts also make us intensely vulnerable. 

Many of us who are leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs don't like to think of ourselves as vulnerable, especially in trying times. For many of us, we associate feeling vulnerable with feeling weak.

As I mulled over this new idea that courage requires vulnerability, it resonated with my own experience.  In the early days of Education Pioneers, I was burning up with the idea that bringing more diverse, exceptional leaders and managers into education could enhance the effectiveness of organizations and transform results for students. (I still am.)

Yet, as I pitched the idea to leaders and potential partners, I heard “no” a lot. In fact, I heard “no” constantly for over a year. Making this even more difficult, many of the naysayers were friends and colleagues whom I deeply respected.  

But because I believed wholeheartedly in my vision for Education Pioneers and had the support of trusted friends and advisors, I persisted. It was a challenging year. At the end of it, someone said “yes.” And then someone else said “yes,” and someone else after that, and so on.

I’ll never forget the nine brave Pioneers, the seven bold Partners, and the first gutsy investors who said “yes” to Education Pioneers back in 2004. These leaders made themselves vulnerable to what could have been a tremendous flop.

Happily for all of us, it wasn’t. Their courage and willingness to take a chance on Education Pioneers and me during our first year laid the foundation for an organization that has developed over 2,500 diverse, exceptional leaders to date.

Seventy-five percent of our leaders in the workforce are making an impact in education –which requires courage and vulnerability from every one of them, whether they are in a school district or starting a venture from scratch. Most importantly, there are over 3.5 million students each year who benefit from their courage, vulnerability, and resolve.

I am grateful to Brené for shining a light on courage’s less exalted companion. Our students need leaders from the classroom to the board room and everywhere in between to be vulnerable and courageous. They should expect it from us. We should also expect it from ourselves and each other.


Scott Morgan Scott Morgan is the Founder of Education Pioneers. He founded the organization in 2003 to identify, train, connect, and inspire a diverse group of leaders and managers to accelerate systemic change across the education sector. An educator, attorney, and social entrepreneur, Scott believes that talented leaders from diverse personal and professional backgrounds can transform education for all students. Follow Scott on Twitter at @scottmorgan1.


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