A great part of courage is the courage of having done the thing before.  —Ralph Waldo Emerson

A few years ago, I had the opportunity to attend Cirque du Soleil during a visit to Disney World in Orlando. The show was a feast for the eyes: dramatic, colorful, daring. For those who have not yet seen a Cirque du Soleil performance, it is a modern spin on the old circus concept with a focus on acrobatics. Trapeze artists, high wire daredevils, synchronized trampoline acrobatics – the performance is breathtaking and beautiful.

Whenever I see performers such as I witnessed in the Cirque du Soleil, I marvel at their courage and their skill. Experiencing such physical feats performed at the outer reaches of human capability is astounding. How does one reach such heights (literally)?

Whenever we experience human mastery, we witness an end product. Great talent takes years to cultivate and those who invest themselves in such ways become the awe-inspiring performers, leaders, and miracle workers of our age. However, developing the skill is only part of the process. Standing atop the high wire requires something more; it demands boldness.

Like skill, boldness must be developed. We nurture our courage by taking small steps toward increasing risk. Jordan Peterson writes of watching teenage skateboarders performing amazing feats on their boards as well as the more numerous times that they fell as they worked toward increasingly difficult moves. Cultivating talent must go hand-in-hand with an evolving daring in order for anyone to reach the pinnacle of their craft.  We must build to boldness.

Much is written about being “fearless.” Fear gets a bad rap for holding us back from all that we might achieve or become. The danger with having no fear is that we quickly find ourselves in the realm of recklessness – a place where we are exposed to overwhelming danger. That fun-killer we call fear is a self-protective mechanism to keep us out of harm’s way. To be totally fearless is to either embrace recklessness or to hide in complete safety. Thriving demands a balance.

Building to boldness is a process of small steps. We must employ courage to push ourselves a little further, develop skill to match the next feat, and exert effort to push it all into motion. We see great risk takers achieve marvelous things but we never see the thousand small risks they took to get there. Whether you are building a company or learning to kite sail, you have to take smaller steps successively to become proficient and take them over a very long time to become a master. The mind needs time and success to become convinced it can safely accomplish whatever crazy ideas you have running through your head.

Before you discount your ability to do something, consider the small steps you might take to get there. Before you retreat hastily from fear, consider what you might do to assuage its grip. Those who seem completely fearless to you once cowered before their own great leap. It was only through the application of courage and effort through a series of successes (and failures) over time that they convinced themselves that they could in fact make the leap. Like any other skill, boldness must be built one step at a time.