As many of you would be aware, I celebrated my birthday last Saturday; and for those who know me well enough, they too can vouch for the fact that I am a very simple guy.
I love nice things, but I also appreciate the simpler things in life – like the hundreds of birthday greetings that poured in from social media connections all across the globe, many of whom I have actually never met in-person. But just imagine receiving an inbox full of messages like this on your birthday…
So thanks to each and every one of you who took the time to send greetings, best wishes, words of encouragement, and prayers. Your love and moral support made the day so much more special for me.
So my initial plans for my birthday were to arrange a mini photo shoot for my blog in Manhattan… nothing too fancy; and considering that I am at a point in my life where I sense an urgency to be both reflective and decisive in moving forward – particularly with my career – I considered it a perfect occasion to take some timeout at one of my favorite quiet spots in the city, just reflecting on my life and career, and where this journey seems to be taking me.
I had already conceived in my mind what I wanted today’s blog to be about – a very personal piece on my struggles with fear, how I have been able to overcome these, and how my perspective has been changing since then. But I’ll get back to that very shortly.
I must have been about halfway through my photo shoot when a young photographer approached me to inquire about my camera gear – fascinated by the Canon swiveling touchscreen feature. Our conversation must have lasted about two minutes, before he invited me to a photo shoot with the sleek hybrid BMW i8 just outside the World Trade Center. As you would imagine, my birthday was turning out to be a bit more eventful than I had initially planned.
I am not a huge fan of sports cars, but just sitting in the cockpit of this machine felt incredible. From the cozy leather seats and snazzy steering wheel, to the soft foot pedals, it is everything that I imagine anyone who could afford the US$143,400 price tag would be looking for in a sports car. As for me, a simpler model would suffice – the X1 perhaps. But for right about now, I am just totally committed to keeping my heart and mind affixed to God’s plan for my life, and what personal improvements I would need to make along the way.
Facing my Fears Head On
Over the last two years alone, I have endured countless disappointments, and I must admit that these have had an abrasive and destabilizing effect on my ego. But today, I cannot thank God enough for allowing me to experience this shaking, for it has exposed some of my greatest faults and delusions – none more retrogressive than my fears.
Recognizing that I needed to face these faults and delusions head on in order to make it through this season of my life, I decided to relinquish whatever lousy control that I thought I had over those overwhelming circumstances in my life to God, and to take note of my greatest fears – those that have undoubtedly inhibited my freedom to act upon my creativity, and the instinct to be bold when my life and livelihood depends on it.
So through personal reflection and prayer, this is what I found:
The fear of failure
Over the course of my academic and professional life, I have tried my hands at many things – from Creative Writing and Journalism, to Land Administration and Business Management. It goes without saying that I have developed quite a peculiar combination of skills over the years – a few of which I have become quite proficient at.
One would naturally think that for someone with such a diversity of skills, that I am perhaps running multiple businesses and earning a decent living through multiple streams of income. Now that would be awesome. Unfortunately, that has not necessarily been the case for me over the last two years, as consultancies are by no means as glamorous as they appear to be.
In fact, I have literally lost count of the number of disappointments that I have experienced in my career within the last two years alone. The reality of being overlooked and rejected was not something that I was particularly familiar with, and it is surely not the type trend that anyone should grow accustomed to.
So while fighting to keep my career goals off the bargaining table, the one thing I could not avoid, was having my confidence shaken – shaken so badly, that for the very first time in my life, I grew extremely fearful of failing.
I stopped taking calculated risks, I stopped acting upon my intuition, I stopped being creative, I stopped networking, and I stopped praying for wisdom and insight – at least, much less than I had previously done.
I was giving up on every venture that I attempted at the very first sign of difficulty. I simply could not deal with the prospect of failure, but I battled daily with the thought of not being able to see my ventures materialize. It was clear to me that I was not doing something right – and surely, I was not.
It turned out that all I really needed, was some time away from all the noise and confusion of my professional life and personal obligations, to seek divine insight on the way forward. I am yet to have all the answers; but thankfully, I am no longer struggling with the fear of failure.
The fear of public opinion
Words of affirmation typically go a long way for me. But I have surely learnt that the world as we know it, is not always as gracious and meek as we would like it to be.
Social media has taught my generation that Likes, Comments, and the expressed opinions of others, matter – an argument that finds great merit from a material standpoint. After all, the success of this blog depends heavily on the traction it obtains via social media. But on matters of destiny and the pursuit of dreams, we ought to avoid pre-occupying ourselves with the opinions of others.
Regardless of how progressive, innovative, or transformative your idea may be, there will always be dissenting voices. You may not be able to avoid hearing them, but you certainly have a choice of whether to act upon your best judgment, or give-in to the discouraging pronouncements of cynics.
If your conviction is to start taking specific steps towards your goals right now, you cannot allow something as inconsequential as an expressed opinion, to derail your dream of a more fulfilled life or career.
The fear of persons developing a negative perspective of us
Show me a man who does not wish to be respected, and I will show you a man with little to no ambition. A problem however emerges when the desire to be respected, evolves into an obsession with impressing others – whether with our qualifications, our lifestyle, or the successes of our careers and businesses. It is this very obsession that breeds the unwillingness to ask for help, primarily because of how we think others may perceive us.
I will be the first to admit that I was very guilty of this at one point in my life – hiding my professional challenges behind my towering walls of pride. I however learnt that this deception helps no one, and your best option is always found in being honest and transparent about your journey. Decent people are drawn to such sincerity – including some who may be able to help you out of a difficult situation.
Just as important to me, is the need to be candid about the highs and lows of my career, for the sake of other young professionals who often express their interest in knowing my story and the lessons learnt along way.
The fear of rejection
Let us be honest with ourselves – no one really wants to hear “No” as an answer when their livelihood is at stake. In fact, I will gladly accept a “Yes” on every request for funding, business collaboration, job application – you name it. But quite frankly, rejection is just a natural occurrence in life that we all need to get accustomed to. In fact, I will go as far as saying that rejection is part of God’s design for aligning us with His perfect plan for our lives.
It is human nature to be stubborn at times – some of us more than others; and I have certainly had a fair share of bad decisions and miscalculations over the course of my life. Thankfully, God has intervened by allowing gatekeepers – quite a lot of them actually – to say “No” to me, even when a response in the affirmative seemed foregone.
It can be very frustrating to hear “No” after investing much time and energy into your professional and academic pursuits. That was for me the root of this particular fear – being the perfectionist that I am, and the extraordinary efforts that I put into each and every project and proposal. But amidst the many rejections, I have learnt to be more prayerful about my decisions in life. For if God in His infinite wisdom gives us the green-light to proceed with our plans, then regardless of how impossible it may seem to get past that gate-keeper, we can be assured that God has already made a way out.
The fear of unforeseen challenges
It may seem a bit ludicrous for anyone to think that their every attempt at making progressive steps in life will be met with resistance, and ultimately end in disappointment. But when things start falling apart around you all at once, it is very easy to become paranoid and preoccupied with the thought of everything that can possibly go wrong. Trust me, I know about this all too well – I have been there.
Just imagine driving to work via the same route, everyday, for years, without obstruction. Then one day, you encounter major traffic congestion, with the trend continuing for the next month. Your local authorities have been promising to deal with the issue for the longest while, yet little progress has been made on finding a feasible solution. As a result, you have been late for work every morning since then.
After 1 month of consistent traffic congestion, and empty promises from your local authorities, you are now required to make a very important presentation at your office, that can gain you the promotion that you have been praying about for a very long time. You are however required to be at the office very early to ensure that all the logistics and audio-visual equipment are in order.
You have chosen not to switch routes, because reports indicate that every possible route to your office has been encountering similar traffic buildup at peak commuting hours. You are now faced with the choice of leaving for the office an hour or two earlier, or spending the night at a cheap hotel just a few blocks away from your office.
Just as staying at home was never an option, failing to pursue your dreams or act upon your intuition simply because of perceived challenges, is in every respect unacceptable.
It is humanly impossible to predict what challenges await us in life. But as we cling to the grace and hope found in Jesus Christ, we need not know what our future holds, but who holds our future.
In the words of Nelson Mandela, “I [learnt] that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”