What is Courage?

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There is no living thing that is not afraid when it faces danger.

The true courage is in facing danger when you are afraid.

- L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Traditionally when we think of courage, we think of a warrior’s courage – bold, fearless, and bigger than life. It’s the James Bond kind of courage, the bungee jumper flinging himself off a bridge, or the kind of courage I mustered when I led a horse packing and storytelling trip in the Wyoming Rockies with seasoned guides Val the Singing Cowboy and his wife Cindy. I had gathered ten participants, and with a total of nineteen horses packing over narrow trails with 5,000-foot drops, we were about as far from civilization as you could get.

You need to understand that heights scare the living daylights out of me. My hands sweat when looking down from a third-floor balcony overlooking an atrium in an office building.  Out there on the back of a horse on a narrow trail in God’s country, I wondered, “What was I thinking? I can’t do this!” But I did do it. I kept going, and though I am still afraid of heights, I and the group successfully completed the trip and have amazing stories to tell about our adventure.

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If you look closely at the word courage, you will see that its root comes from the French word coeur meaning heart. This is the kind of courage that Brene Brown calls ordinary courage (Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, 2015).  It is the kind of courage that my coaching clients display every day as they face the ordinary, yet extraordinary challenges of their own lives. It is the kind of courage that many, like my friend Liz Smith who has now passed, don’t recognize as courage.

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When I came home from my horse packing trip, I went to the hospital to visit Liz. She was in the last stages of cancer and hooked up to an IV. Her beautiful spirit shone through her eyes, even as her once vibrant body now struggled to shuffle down the hall with her IV in tow. Sitting together in the family lounge, Liz wanted to hear all about my trip. When our visit was almost over, she looked into my eyes.  “Lynn," she said softly, "you have so much courage! I could never ride a horse in the mountains like that.” I was taken aback. I had been sitting in the presence of Liz’s courage as she faced her pain, lack of freedom and the unknown. She seemed unaware of what a hero she was. “Liz," I responded suddenly aware of the extraordinary heart she took for granted, "you have more courage right now than I ever had on that mountain. It is inspiring to be here with you.”

To have courage for whatever comes in life - everything lies in that.   -St. Teresa of Avila

Take out your journal, pen and colored markers:

  • Who inspires you with their ordinary courage?
  • When do you bring courage to everyday life? Dealing with a difficult person? Facing the blank page or canvass? Being with uncertainty?
  • Draw a symbol of courage of ordinary courage. What does it look like? 


Lynn Baskfield, M.A. is owner of SpiritDance Coaching. She is a certified life coach and equine guided educator in practice for over 20 years. This blog is an excerpt from her upcoming manual, The Hero’s Journey: From Challenge to Heartfelt Courage. Activities for Equine Guided Practitioners. To be notified when it comes out, sign up for Lynn's newsletter HERE.

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