Courage – an expanded definition (It isn’t what I thought it was)

Courage – an expanded definition (It isn’t what I thought it was)

We’ve all heard these definitions …

Courage is not the absence of fear, but the conquering of it.  (I’ve seen this attributed to Dan Millman)

Courage is resistance to fear.  (Thanks Mark Twain)

Courage is mastery of fear.  (Mark Twain again)

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.  (Kelly Clarkson made this line famous in her pop song)

In other words, grit your teeth and move on regardless. Tough it out. Toughen up.


A lot of people who know me say I’m one of the most tenacious, determined, “courageous” people they know. And I’ve always kind of liked this. I’m proud that I ‘hang in there’, dig deep and find my way through challenges.

My father (bless you, dad) had a saying that went something like this: “The real measure of a person’s character is how they handle adversity.” And I liked this too – for most of my life.

Whenever I was going through a tough time, I’d remember my dad’s words and think ‘keep going, Sandi – you’re developing character. People will admire you for the fact that you’ve made it through all this crap.’ And so I did keep going (though I’m not sure this really earned me brownie points in the admiration-from-other-people stakes).

Please don’t think I believe this is all ‘bad’. I don’t. I think resilience in life is a key ingredient not so much for success – but for sanity. Heavens knows things happen every day that can challenge, overwhelm, burden, frighten, hurt and confuse us. Being able to bounce back from all that is imperative if we want to keep living and actually enjoy the ride.


What bothers me about these definitions of courage (and even my dear dad’s saying) if that it sets everything up in a combative kind of context.

Face it – you’re going to be afraid, so conquer it. (Conquer also conjures up images of a battle, with a ‘conqueror’ and a person or thing that gets ‘conquered’.)

You’ve got to resist fear – and to resist means to “to withstand the action or effect of something” (a quick Google search reveals this). And to withstand something, you have to outlast it. Keep working at resisting your fear and hey presto! Away it goes!

Mastery of fear? “Comprehensive knowledge or skill in a particular subject or activity” “Control or superiority over someone or something” (thanks Google) Do I really want to feel ‘superior’ to fear? There’s that ‘win/lose’ perspective again …

And as for the ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ … jeepers! Are there only 2 choices? Be killed – or get stronger.

Combative, adversarial, one wins and the other loses … will it be me or my fear that dies?


So … what’s another way to look at courage? One that doesn’t make me (potentially) even more fearful … one that doesn’t leave me feeling I need to gird my loins and prepare for battle?

I found it in a wonderful book called The Ten Gifts, by Robin L Silverman.

Yes – you guessed it – courage is one of the ten gifts she writes about.

And something I really liked was when she assured her readers that we all already have these gifts … but perhaps we aren’t using them.

So how does Robin define courage?

“A simple willingness to try something your heart desires”

Read that again. It’s profound.

She adds that she believes that courage isn’t meant to be fearful – it’s meant to be fun. (Yep – another good sentence to read again!)

Robin describes it as the “I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-this, but-I-am!” feeling we get when we find ourselves doing something we always thought was out of our reach.

And to this, she suggests rather than fight to prove our courage, we only need to be brave enough to relax and have some fun.


Embracing this idea (even though I didn’t realise it at the time), a few weeks ago I’d finish my swim routine at my local pool and noticed the water slides were operational. It was a really hot summer day and the place was swarming with kids and families.

Being a slight adrenaline junkie, I thought ‘that looks like fun’ … and before any logical part of my brain could start arguing, I joined the line of kids waiting for their turn. Yes, at some stage during my wait, the little voice in my head suggested I looked foolish/out of place/weird … 

But I told that little voice to go sit down somewhere in the shade and just enjoy watching.

I screamed with delight as I came down that slide! Unintentionally, I said aloud as I got out of the pond I’d landed in “that was fun!” and found my feet taking me back up the hill to have another turn. By this stage, I couldn’t even hear that little voice calling to me from the shade (perhaps it went off to annoy someone else!). I was only focussed on the sheer enjoyment of that wild ride down the watery tunnel. And I wanted more!


I honestly can’t tell you how many times I came down that slide.

But I can tell you I had a simple willingness to try something my heart desired.

I definitely had the feeling of “I-can’t-believe-I’m-doing-this, but-I-am!” … and it was awesome!

So, on my daily To Do list now is this:

Use your gift of courage – relax and have some fun.


How about joining me? What will you find yourself doing when you use your gift of courage?

I’d love it if you’d drop me a line and let me know!

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