“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”
These famous words were first spoken by Franklin D. Roosevelt, president of the United States of America, in 1933. The occasion was his inaugural address to the American people, as they faced the spectre of the Great Depression which would wreak havoc on the economy of the most prosperous nation on earth.
Most recently, this quote appeared in a conversation I was having with my brother, Paul, as we were discussing his plans for the future. For once, he was being quite candid about how fear had prevented him from doing many things in his life. It was something we had argued about many times over the years and I had always felt that he was in denial. And now, without warning, the walls came crashing down.
Our chat, although limited by delays on WhatsApp, was a revelation. Paul stripped away the layers of doubt, fear and procrastination, and laid himself bare. He admitted that pride had gotten in the way of being honest with me and, more importantly, with himself. And that by not admitting to being afraid, it had been difficult to confront and defeat these self-made barriers to lasting success.
As I probed deeper into the genesis of his road-to-Damascus-like conversion, my brother made a startling confession: “I’m learning to dance with fear. What could be worse than my wife dying? Not much.” In that moment, I realised that he had reached the point that many of us need to get to, before we can make drastic changes to the well-rehearsed, worn-out patterns in our lives. Sometimes, we have to get to the bottom of life as we know it, before we can begin to power our way back to the surface and breathe in a more purpose-driven and joyous existence.
I found it amazing that, even at such a difficult period in his life, Paul was finding a clarity of purpose that I had not witnessed for as long as I could remember. He was making far-reaching decisions that will change everything that has been part of his comfort zone for so long – decisions that will shape the life of 5 year-old Samuel for the better. And, he was not taking it lightly. “It’s worth the risk in search of a better life for me and my son. Progress comes at a price but the rewards are great,” he opined.
It’s interesting that most of the time our fear is that the things we hope and plan for might not work out. And we don’t want to take any risks, just in case we get disappointed. So, we procrastinate or simply do nothing – thereby guaranteeing that things won’t work out. Crazy as it seems, we prefer the certainty of failure to the ambivalence of possibility.
Thankfully, that will not be Paul’s fate. Faced with a plethora of decisions to make in a short space of time, he used a simple but effective trick. He made one decision and took immediate action. This created certainty about what would happen over the next three months and fear began to recede. As a result, other decisions had to be made and suddenly Paul was in full swing, daring to go where he had once feared to tread.
I spoke to him today and he’s still at it, determined to make a great life and set an example for his son. I’ll keep cheering from the sidelines, encouraging him whenever doubt sets in. Fear will be there too, turning up at each crossroads of decision, questioning his audacity, but shrinking in the face of courage.
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