Book excerpt: Extraordinary – How to Lead a Bigger, Braver, More Meaningful Life

In an excerpt from her new book, Elke Edwards talks about what it means to be a courageous learner. 

Courageous Learner – what does it mean?

Courageous Learners are motivated by learning. They take joy and satisfaction in learning about themselves, others and whatever situation they find themselves in, without the need to always be right, win, prove their worth or defend their point of view.

Courageous Learners are acutely self-aware and have the ability to tell the truth to themselves and others. They proactively seek to change and develop themselves throughout their lives.

Why is it so important?

When we’re motivated by being right, our priority is to protect our ego. For some reason, most of us believe that when we’re wrong, it reduces our self-worth. We believe that if we don’t win, we’re a failure; that if we don’t come top of the class, we’re not as valuable as someone who did.

I spent a long time believing these things when I was younger, and at the time they seemed perfectly natural; but when you think about them deeply, they are totally mad. If you operate from these beliefs, you get a world of pain and self-judgement.

You end up creating relationships that become battlegrounds and leaders who are more concerned with being right than doing the right thing for the organisation. And in many ways, that’s the world we find ourselves in now.

When people are motivated by learning, they listen, ask genuine questions and are prepared to change their minds

That doesn’t mean that Courageous Learners are always free of ego or purely motivated by learning. They’re still human, with a full range of emotions like anyone else. The truth is, neither being above the line nor below the line marks you out as a Courageous Learner.

Like all of us, Courageous Learners can find themselves in either place. The difference is that they always know where they are at any one time. They are self-aware enough to know whether they’re just trying to be right, and they are proactive and honest enough to do something about it.

Think for a moment about the last conversation you had that didn’t go so well. Where do you think you were? Above or below the line?

Two friends, Bill and Ben, were doing the Ivy House Award. They were about to leave school and had decided to go on a gap year together. The problem was, Bill wanted to start in America and Ben in Australia. Who was right? Bill? Ben? Neither?

Whenever they began to talk about it, they lapsed into an argument, each one getting louder and more aggressive as they tried to impress their points on the other. After a while Ben simply gave in, because he was fed up with the constant conflict.

But deep down, he still really wanted to start his travels in Australia. At this point he was tempted to call the whole thing off and suggest they go their own ways. 


This scenario plays out in relationships and businesses time and time again, as people who are motivated by being right talk across each other, shout and roll their eyes in order to ‘win’. The topic of discussion is irrelevant. What matters, and needs to change, is to stop living below the line.

When Bill and Ben began to learn about Courageous Learners on the Award, they agreed to try and explore the issue from above the line – to be curious and open, to truly listen to one another and consider each other’s views.

They soon understood that each of their opinions was as a result of the data they had been fed over the years: the books they’d read, the films they’d watched, the people they followed on social media, as well as the opinions of their parents, schools and the people around them.

They actually discovered that after ten years of being friends there was more to learn about each other than they’d ever imagined. And by understanding the nuances of each other’s desires, they soon realised that there were lots of good reasons to start in either place.

They ended up agreeing to start in America, but to then allocate extra time to linger in Australia. In other words, because they were using the skill of being Courageous Learners, they chose a different behaviour in the conversation – and got a much better result.

When people are motivated by learning, they listen, ask genuine questions and are prepared to change their minds. In fact, Courageous Learners are happy to do so, because they don’t associate it with being weak. On the contrary, they see it for what it is: a strength.

Our cultural conditioning of being below the line has very ancient roots, from the days when sabre-toothed tigers roamed the earth. When we are below the line, we are in a primitive state of survival, flooded with hormones that narrow our thinking as our fight or flight mechanism comes into play.

Today, although there are no sabre-toothed tigers, we use the exact same protection mechanism when we think our ego is being threatened. When our boss ignores us in a meeting, or our friend confronts us about something we’ve done wrong, our brain shrieks ‘tiger!’ and goes into lockdown.

Unfortunately, when we’re in this state, we’re good for nothing but freezing or running. Under stress, we experience a rapid loss of cognitive ability – we literally cannot think. We need tiger-free time and space for learning, listening and being creative.

Once we’re above the line, however, we’re in a creator state. Because we feel safe, we’re able to play, try out new ideas, change our minds and listen to different points of view. It’s from this place that the best ideas are developed, and it’s from this place that decisions should be made. 


About the author

Elke Edwards is founder of Ivy House London and author of the new book Extraordinary, available to buy here.


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