Foundations of Courage: Do You Have a Baseplate?

Man's face looking up under a black background.

By Anna Robb

Published October 2020

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear” – Mark Twain

I remember the exact moment I read this quote many years ago. I was standing side of stage in an entertainment arena about to show call a live show in front of thousands of people and my computer where I typed my show call notes throughout the day’s rehearsal had crashed. My assistant had run off to print what was left of my prompt script and I was scared.

I was in my early 20’s and my self talk at that moment was something along the lines of “Well you have totally screwed this up…” and “You can’t do this, why did you think you could do this?” While I was scolding myself, a young performer ran up to me joyfully and placed a bag of candy on my desk side of stage… smiled at me and wished me luck… “I’m going to need it” I muttered to myself as I tore open the bag of candy and stress ate the contents. At the base of the bag was a piece of paper, I pulled it out and opened it up. And there it was, as the pre-show music was playing, the front of house doors were opening, the audience was entering and me prompt scriptless, the quote:

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear”

Exactly the words I needed to hear in that moment… mastery of fear…My fear of failure was stalling me from taking action. I was frozen and wasting time. I had notes, I had 30 minutes, I had an excellent memory and I had not lost everything, just some important notes. Notes that I could remember if I could just calm myself and focus on the job at hand. I cleared my head and got to work. This quote has been the foundation of how I have approached my career since that moment. Fear is felt, and may always be present, but controlling that fear and mastering it in each challenging moment allows you to move through a tough situation, it allows you to grow.

So, leaning into a quote like that when you feel fear is all you need, right?

And everybody can do that, right?

Wrong.

Why?

Because there’s another factor at play here. And over the years of living on 4 continents, working in multiple countries and amongst many cultures, I’ve learned through observation of the second factor that allowed me back then (and now) to be courageous. Something a little deeper than leaning in on an inspirational quote.

I had a baseplate.

You have to have a baseplate. A foundation from which you can jump into that fearlessness. No one can jump into the air when they are standing in quicksand, can they? And from culture to culture and person to person, the baseplates and the quicksands can be different.

What was my baseplate? In my early twenties, my baseplate was my parents. I knew that if I failed in any way, I could show up at my parent’s doorstep and I would be welcomed back into the house, given a roof over my head, and time to get back on my feet without judgement.

Do you know how many people across the world don’t have that safety net? …. Many.

Later in my 30’s, I built financial stability and a skill set that was transferable to multiple genres of entertainment and this then became my new baseplate. There is power in not needing the job you are doing. It gives you the power to walk away. The baseplate to be fearless. 

Many people are afraid to speak up, speak out against things that are wrong at work, unsafe at work, unfair at work, because they need the money, they need the health insurance, they need the job. How many times have you bit your tongue to not rock the boat because you were afraid of the consequences? You are standing in quicksand, my friend!

So, before you get to the courage part…build a baseplate from which you can leap into fearlessness. To do this you may have to think larger and be more open about your options than ever before. Is it starting a side hustle? Is it taking a different job for a while? Is it moving countries? Is it asking your friend if you can crash on their couch for a few months if you fail? Every person’s situation and story is different and everyone’s baseplate is built by different circumstances.

The hard part about life is often that it is not fair. I have watched amazing technicians in the United Arab Emirates being paid pennies for their work because they are Indian, locals in China getting paid a third the salary of their expat counterparts, Filipinos giving up a career in healthcare or accounting to be a domestic worker in Hong Kong because it pays more, and they can support their families that way. Not everyone gets to live their dreams.

The older I get, the more I see my privilege. My whiteness, my Australian passport, my education, my supportive parents were all foundational factors in building a strong baseplate for my ability to be fearless. Don’t get me wrong, it hasn’t been all red wine and roses. I’ve worked through sexism, being bullied, and being overlooked many times in my career trajectory. But when I stack my challenges up against the stories of many I have come across on this vast planet, I am humbled by their insignificance.

People have built baseplates in the most unlikely of circumstances and against all odds. They have taken that one person, that one situation, and capitalized on that moment to give themselves a leg up. Getting out of quicksand and building a baseplate is the first step. Lean on others, ask for help. Find it however you can. Once you have it under your feet, you will have a much easier time leaping into fearlessness. This is what I wish for all who reads this.

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