Courage is Calling (Ryan Holiday) - Book Summary, Notes & Highlights

Photo of the book cover for Courage is Calling by Ryan Holiday
Photo of the book taken by me

Courage is one of the four stoic virtues, and Courage is Calling is one of four books in a series by author Ryan Holiday. The book tells us how we can all find the courage within us through powerful stories from history. Ryan Holiday uses stoicism and stories to guide us toward more bravery. Below is the definition of courage from the book:

Courage: the powerful force that enables us to overcome obstacles, pursue ambitions, fight for what's right, drive change and ultimately become who we were meant to be.

⏳The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. Courage is something we do and it is a daily choice for us to be courageous in the face of challenges.
  2. An individual has the power to change the world and that person can be you if you only dare!
  3. Be courageous enough to do the right thing and dare to stay true to yourself even in troubling times.


This book explains why courage is a virtue and why we should all strive to be more courageous. It is also an easily digestible book on stoicism, the ancient philosophy of life. I have written more about stoicism here.

Holiday's writing and storytelling style create both an interesting and informative story. The book leverages the stories of famous and not-so-famous historical people to illustrate the points Holiday wants to make.

📖Who Should Read It?

I highly recommend this book to everyone interested in history, stoicism, and virtuous living. The book is written in a way that requires no previous knowledge of the topic. I believe you will enjoy it if:

  • You want to learn more about stoicism and the power of a life philosophy.
  • You enjoy learning in a story-based format. The lessons of the book are explained through stories and real-life examples.
  • You want to learn more about virtues and the power they have to change our lives.

👩‍🏫Lessons I Have Learned

How my life/behavior/thoughts/ideas have changed as a result of reading the book:

  • The book highlights the importance of speaking up when something is wrong even at your expense. Something hard to do, yet powerful.
  • Boldness does not equal rashness, it is important to be thoughtful and planned in our courageous actions.
  • To be successful in almost any endeavor we must first do something we are nervous or scared of doing. In this way, fear can serve as a compass towards something we desire.

📝Summary + Notes

The book teaches the reader what courage and virtues are and why they are important. Ryan Holiday then shows why courage is important and how it plays a major role in making the world better through courageous people. Throughout the stories, Holiday helps the reader come to insights on how to be more courageous in your life and why we should all strive to be braver in our lives. Below are four of my main takeaways:

1. You have the power to change the world

It is easy to think that the choices we make will not impact the world as no one person can change the world. The fact however is that the world is constantly changing at the behest of different individuals and if you dare to make brave choices others will join you as the second quote below illustrates. Courage is often infectious for those around you as they see your bravery. We should all know that we have the power to change the world if we are brave enough to do it!

The belief that an individual can make a difference is the first step. The next is understanding that you can be that person
Courage may call for us to stand alone, alone against the incredible adversity, even against what feels like the entire world. But we are not afraid, because we are not actually alone when we take that stand. For behind us, as there was for de Gaulle, there is a great empire. And we must know that if we fight hard and long enough, we will find everyone is with us
"Who am I that I should go to the Pharaoh?" Moses asked when destiny called. The answer for him is the same as it is for you: The right person for the right job.

2. Fake it until you make it

With courage, this adage holds true, as doing something you are afraid of doing is being brave. So when you fake bravery and do something that scares you, you are being brave and I think that is important to remember. I first heard this idea that you can't fake bravery from Jocko Willink the Navy SEAL which Ryan Holiday also references in his book. Being brave does not mean never being afraid, what it does mean is however that you won't let fear stop you from doing something.

No one can tell you that your plan will succeed. No one can tell you what their answer to your question will be. No one can guarantee you'll make it home alive. They can't even tell you how far down the hole goes.
If they could, if it wasn't scary, everyone would do it. And then it wouldn't need to be done by you, now would it?
In the words of the decorated Navy SEAL Jocko Willink, to get over the fear, you go. You just do. You leap into the dark. It is the only way. Because if you don't, what looms? Failure. Regret. Shame. A lost opportunity. Any hope of moving forward.

3. Dare to be different

To be successful and change the world we all need to dare to be different. If we just follow along the route we will most likely reinforce the status quo. If there is something you believe needs to be changed dare to make it so. The people who shaped history were often called crazy when they began. Remember when Elon Musk said that EVs would be the future and most people called him crazy, an example from the book was Margaret Thatcher who many believed to be stubborn and hard to work with. Whatever your feelings are about these people it is undeniable that they had a large impact on the world and changed it in many ways. You need to be a little bit different and crazy to take on the world's largest challenges, otherwise everyone else would have already solved them!

Be original. Be yourself. To be anything else is to be coward. Don't let the opinion of cowards influence what you think or do. The future depends on it.
If we only did what we were sure of, if we only proceeded when things were favorable, then history would never be made.
What they said about Nightingale. You're difficult. Of course they were. The well-behaved rarely make history. Had these men and women been a little more conciliatory, a little more willing to accept the role expected of them, had they cared a little bit more about what other people thought, were they a little bit easier to deter, there wouldn't have been an independent stand to take in the first place

4. Preparation --> Confidence --> Courage

As stated before being courageous does not mean that we are not afraid, instead, it means we know how to handle fear. A great way to become better at handling fear is to prepare for what you will do when it comes. Practice and preparation will give you confidence that you can handle difficult situations and that confidence will give you courage. This is why we all go through safety drills and practice difficult maneuvers or tasks so that we have confidence that we can solve these challenges when they occur. So examine the things you are afraid of, what can you do to prepare for the worst-case scenario? Do that and I promise you will experience much less fear afterward.

The power of building confidence to become courageous reminded me of a quote. The quote is from Alex Hormozi: "You don’t become confident by shouting affirmations in the mirror, but by having a stack of undeniable proof that you are who you say you are". I believe this is what Ryan Holiday is also saying to become confident and by extension courageous we need to prepare and create evidence for ourselves that we can handle challenges.

As Epictetus says, the goal when we experience adversity is to be able to say, "This is what I've trained for, for this is my discipline."
If you don't want to flinch when it comes, Seneca would say around the same time, train before it comes.
You do it a thousand times, and then a thousand times more while there is no pressure so that when there is, you'll know exactly what to do. Know-how is a help. But it's preparation that makes you brave