Stay tuned for my thoughts on the second fear!
Tuesday, January 10, 2012
Two Fears that Keep Us from Our Professional Callings (Part 1)
I had a fascinating conversation with one of my students the other day. We’ll call him Marcus (not his real name). His experience highlights one of two major fears that I believe prevent us from finding and pursuing our calling in life.
Marcus is an imposing figure. A former collegiate athlete, he is large, confident, and passionate. From past conversations, I knew that he had overcome a great deal to get into college, including a violence-filled adolescence. Today, though, he practically oozes natural leadership...
…which is why I had been a little puzzled that Marcus often seemed to hold back in class, and to adopt a somewhat passive role on his team. My questions were answered, though, when he came to speak to me in my office. As near as I can reconstruct, this is what he said:
“I have realized that, with my large stature and my loud voice, I can easily dominate other people. I don’t want to be the kind of person that dictates out of force. So I’ve really been trying to stay more in the background with my team.”
I had two reactions to that comment:
1) This guy is remarkably sensitive. I really admire that.
2) What a waste of a natural gift!
I commended Marcus warmly for his maturity in recognizing the dangers of forcing his will on others, and we talked about how challenging it was for him to overcome the aggression of his younger years.
But then I said, “Your stature and your voice are great assets, Marcus. What a shame not to use them to serve other people.”
Marcus seemed a little surprised by that comment. I then shared with him a wonderful quote. It’s often misattributed to Nelson Mandela, who used it in a speech. The original author is Marianne Williamson. You may have read it before, but it merits frequent pondering:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, 'Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?' Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
I have to admit that I didn’t really understand that quote for some time. But then I started reflecting on the many ways I have chosen to fade into the background, to worry about others’ perception of my talents, to pass up a chance to speak out about something when I knew I should have. There are dozens of ways that we can “play small.” And we sometimes feel that modesty requires us to suppress our talents. Jesus' words for that were "hiding our light under a bushel."
Marcus has figured out that his gift for influence is dangerous if he uses it self-servingly. Now he has to discover that it will be glorious when he uses it to serve others. I think that’s true of virtually any of the thousands of human talents we might be blessed with.
So, which of your gifts are you suppressing so that others won’t feel awkward around you? Do you fear your own innate greatness? I don’t believe you will discover your professional calling until you allow yourself to “shine, as children do.” And, as Williamson pointed out, when we shine with a spirit of giving, we don’t overshadow other people. We “unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”