“For God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” – 2 Timothy 1:7
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to talk to a group of young women at Dillard University about facing fears. The workshop was put on by a Dillard alum named Marina Banks and was extremely inspiring. We started off the event with “I Am” statements and I remember listening to the girls and wondering what “I am” statement would have defined me before I started college. In a matter of minutes, I realized the statement would have been “I am afraid.”
It was 2009 and I’d been presented with the opportunity to go to the #1 journalism school in the country in a place called Columbia, Missouri. I’d traveled outside of the state before but never to the Midwest and just like the present, was extremely close to my family. I knew I wanted to go out of state to school, but I’d had my heart set on an HBCU after years of being in predominantly white institutions. I applied to Clark Atlanta, Hampton University and then for good measure I applied my mom’s alma mater, the University of North Texas and the University of Missouri.
During my decision making process, I remember people coming out of the woodwork talking about how great it would be for me to go to the University of Missouri and all the doors that would open up for me as a result of my attendance there. When I had more or less resigned to the choice of attending Mizzou, I remember sitting on the couch at my parent’s house, crying “Why doesn’t God care about what I want?” Oh how I wish I could take those words back. Only in retrospect do I realize how ridiculous I sounded. But I was speaking from a place of fear, fear of the unknown, fear of spending yet another four years as the minority, fear of being so far away from family, fear from living in a place I’d never visited and to be honest – fear of the cold! I was from Texas, cold for us was 65 degrees and at times, Missouri got as low as 7! In my mind, it just wasn’t worth it. I would have rather stuck with the familiar, stuck with what people around me were doing and attended Texas Tech or the University of Texas at Austin, but God had bigger plans.
As I continued to reflect on how grateful I was that God didn’t allow my fear to skew my decision, I thought to myself, why do we allow fear to have such a hold on us? Why do we allow it to limit our potential? For me it boils down to two major things. Not wanting to leave our comfort zones and/or not having a clear example. Our comfort zones take time to build up and may be composed of a particular routine, group of people and specific activities. It becomes so innate in us that we can do it without thinking and often resort to it in times when we’re afraid.
For example, let’s say you’re an introvert which doesn’t mean you hate people or being around people, it just means given the choice between a night out with a bunch of folks you don’t know or the chance to just Netflix and chill, you’d choose the latter. One day you have this enormous opportunity to work at the White House, you get through the application process, pass all the interviews and background checks and the final stage requires that you attend a ball some government officials are hosting at Gallier Hall. Immediately, you start to panic. A small voice in your head says that it’ll be okay, you’ll get through it and you might even have fun at the event. But the voice you’re used to, your own, overpowers it and by the weekend of the ball, you decide you’re not going. Instead, you opt to stay in your house and start looking for new internships.
In this particular case, you allowed the fear of the unknown to keep you from going and you resorted back to your comfort zone and missed out on a huge opportunity.
The other reason I gave during my speech to the girls was that sometimes we allow fear to overcome us if we don’t have a clear example of someone around us doing what it is we want to do. I have a friend named Kam who started a nonprofit organization called Dream Outside the Box during her freshman year of college. In a nutshell, Dream Outside the Box partners with different university departments and organizations to help expose children in the community to careers and opportunities they may not have otherwise had interest in. For example, they might tell students about job opportunities as nutritionists, lawyers, journalists or engineers and uses hands on activities to give them a small glimpse of what some of their responsibilities might include if they were to enter this particular field.
Today, Kam’s organization has expanded from one chapter in Columbia, Missouri to 10 chapters all over the country including Denver, Chicago and Oklahoma. I believe Kam’s success is due to a number of things, but a huge factor is the mission statement of the organization by which she inspires everybody. It is “You can’t be what you can’t see.”
If you’re only surrounded by people who went to school locally, perhaps have never traveled outside of the state and are driven by the amount of money they make versus whether or not they’re living purposefully, it’s much easier to follow in their footsteps rather than branch out and do something no one in your family or group of friends has ever done or even considered doing. It’s hard to be the first to go to an out of state school, travel abroad, or take the lower paying job because it’s fulfilling if that’s not what you’ve seen. But, those choices are necessary if you’re determined to thrive which brings me back to my opening story about not wanting to go to Mizzou because I was afraid of leaving my family, being so far away and being one of the few minorities.
As the oldest grandchild on both sides of my family, I didn’t have a relative close in age who had gone ahead to blaze a path for me. Thankfully I went to a church I’d grown up in my whole life and so I had seen my big “brothers” go to different universities. My brother Phil, went to Hampton way out in Virginia and I remember asking him how it felt to be so far away. He basically said that he felt so at home at Hampton that he didn’t even think about the distance and he told me that I would know what school was right for me because I’d step on campus and think – this is it. He gave me the boldness I needed to even consider Missouri.
Someone reading this may be like me, you may not have a family member who’s experienced what you’re experiencing. You may be the first in your family but that’s why mentoring is so important and it doesn’t have to be in any official capacity. Look around your community for someone who is doing what you’re doing – a classmate, a neighbor, a coworker and spend time with them, take note of how they got to where they are now and where they’re going. By seeking out those examples, you can change up your story. You can go from an average life to one that’s extraordinary. I titled this post the art of fearlessness because I believe acting in spite of fear takes courage. I once read a quote that said “Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the judgement that something is more important than fear; The brave may not live forever but the cautious do not live at all.”
Fear has never helped anyone accomplish anything, that’s why there are so many Bible verses speaking against it (Psalm 23:4, Psalm 27:1, Psalm 118:6, 2 Timothy 1:7, Deuteronomy 31:6). When you decide to face it and be willing to do the things that scare you, you enter the path of purposeful living. I took a huge leap of faith the day I decided to move to Missouri, but seven years later, I’m still reaping benefits from the decision I made that day. By preventing my fears from getting the best of me, I opened up myself to new things. I was living up to my motto that it’s better to live a life of “oh wells” than “what ifs.” And if I had not gone to the University of Missouri, I would not have met my best friends, I would not have met the man I’m in love with who I’ve been married to for two whole weeks! I would not have studied abroad in Buenos Aires, Argentina for nearly half a year, I would not have received an email from Mizzou’s Career Services office about an AmeriCorps position that led to me moving down here, I would not be involved in ministry at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church which means my mentee might not have gotten baptized a few weeks ago. I wouldn’t have realized my passion for speaking and working with young ladies as young as 14 all the way up to 23 and I wouldn’t have written The Black Girl’s Guide to Living on Purpose. All these things, were contingent upon my decision to not let fear get the best of me and a determination to live the life God predestined for me.
What are some fears that hold you back from purposeful living?
How can you act in spite of them this week?
How do the Bible verses outlined in this post change the way you think about fear?