In 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt – the 32nd President of the United States – calmed a nation ravaged by the Great Depression with these reassuring words during his first inaugural address: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
I agree with the spirit of Roosevelt’s inspiring proclamation. However I want to make a shorter and bolder statement: “We have nothing to fear.”
Famed motivational author Napoleon Hill insisted in his book The 16 Laws of Success (and its abridged version Think and Grow Rich) that fear is one of our greatest enemies.
In Hill’s opinion, fear robs people of hope and initiative and creates a mindset of doom and failure which eventually transforms from a mentality to an actual set of circumstances.
Hill goes on to name the 6 most common fears shared by humanity. These include the fear of poverty, criticism, poor health, losing a love relationship, old age and death.
All of the above are circumstances that exist within the realm of normalcy. Each one of these situations -especially death – will likely occur in our lives.
But how does living in fear help us? How is our quality of life impacted by these 6 fears?
Fear hampers our creativity, initiative and hope. It makes us hide in the shadows of life, afraid to speak our truth, pursue our dreams, display our talents or challenge injustice.
Fear keeps us from learning new things, exploring new places, and taking risks that might otherwise change our lives for the better.
As you read this, millions of people in this and other countries are allowing fear to rob them of powerful exhilarating experiences, and the lessons/happiness that accompany them.
Think about the following scenarios. A person yearns for love but he fears meeting new people because he might get rejected or have his heart broken. Because of this, he becomes a depressed and lonely recluse.
Another hates her job and feels unfulfilled and stagnant. But she never leaves the job to explore returning to school, getting a new job, or starting a business. She listens to the negative whispers:
- “The economy is tough. I’ll never find another job.”
- “No school will accept me, and even if so, I won’t be able to afford it.”
- “Starting a business is risky. I could lose all of my savings. It might not succeed. All of my friends will lose respect for me. I won’t have the stability and consistent pay of a regular job.”
These whispers of fear and doubt cause her to avoid doing things to enhance her situation. Instead, she stays at the unfulfilling job where she is overworked, underpaid and has no room to grow or learn.
An intellectual, community leader or inventor discovers/creates an innovative product, theory or method that can potentially revolutionize our lives. But fear of criticism – being deemed wrong, crazy or threatening – makes them dismiss or hide their innovation or perspective.
In each scenario, fear caused someone to build their own private prison of anxiety and doubt. It also insured that each person would stay unhappy.
Interestingly, these fears were all subjective opinions based not on research, but on speculation. How sad it is to ruin our lives because of unfounded and crippling beliefs that are more illusion that fact.
Fear not only leads us to become willing prisoners of ill-founded beliefs, it also empowers others to control and mistreat us. The boss who knows her worker fears losing his job might use this knowledge to manipulate and exploit her: “I need you to work longer hours for less pay. The company needs to be more profitable. If that doesn’t sit well with you, many other people would love to replace you.”
An abusive man manipulates his mate by telling her, “Without me you’re nothing. If I leave, who else is gonna take care of the bills and your children? How will you survive without me?”
You can see how fear cripples us and empowers others to manipulate and mistreat us. But there is another thing to consider: Being afraid of something doesn’t eliminate the thing or circumstance we fear. Fear of being broke doesn’t increase our savings or create prosperity. Fear of loneliness doesn’t create companionship. And fear of death…well, no need to explain.
Even in cases where people use their fears to work harder, such people stll experience great anxiety and stress that often leads to health complications, drug and alcohol addictions and insomnia.
In summary, fear creates no-win scenarios. It stunts our personal, spiritual and professional growth, blocks our happiness and fulfillment, creates negative self-fulfilling prophecies and self-defeating illusions, induces stress and it doesn’t solve our problems!
If all the above arguments are true, there is only one reasonable conclusion: There is nothing to fear! We can be concerned about unpleasant circumstances and intelligently work or plan to avoid or respond to them.
Worrying or feelings of fear on the other hand, accomplish nothing positive for us. We cannot forget that we are endowed with the power and ability to anticipate, prevent and respond to our problems effectively and in mature fashion.
Many of us find ourselves living in fear, suffering from anxiety, and living in a cycle of misery and dysfunction. Review the following to remember the power you have as the primarty change agent and problem-solver over your own life:
- If you don’t know something or how to do something, and that causes you to worry, learn it or find someone who does.
- Remember that other people have some of the poblems/fears you do. Some of them overcame their problems. They are no better than you. As Marcus Garvey said, “What people have done, people can do.”
- Identify all of your fears, determine exactly why you’re afraid, and how being afraid negatively impacts you and others. Become informed about things you fear by doing research. We often fear what we don’t understand. You will feel (and be) more empowered and less fearful as a result.
- Couple your research with solid action plans to resolve your problems.
- Conquer your fears by directly confronting them. For example, if you are afraid to speak before a crowd, give yourself a deadline by which you will do just that. This will lead you out of your comfort zone to join an organization, take a class, or view Youtube clips to prepare you to confront your fear.
- Refuse to see conflicts or undesireable situations as life curses. Self-pity steals your power and joy. Instead see conflicts and concerns as opportunities for growth and empowerment. As one of my mentors likes to say, “Conflict is inevitable, but suffering is a choice.” Many of the people we most admire now, overcame considerable fears and conflicts in their lives. Doing so is a normal Parr of life. Read biographies and autobiographies of people you admire. Identify their fears, doubts and problems and how they overcame them.
We cannot predict with precision what the future holds. What we can say with certainty is that living in fear robs us of brighter and more empowering possibilities and doing so only escalates our problems. I challenge you to identify 1 fear today and work to overcome it….
Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and lead. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Currently, Agyei is a member of the Black Power Cypher, five Black Nationalist men with organizing backgrounds, who host a monthly internet show addressing issues and proposing solutions. He runs his own business publishing books, public speaking, and teaching Black people how to organize and fight for empowerment.
Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.