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Fear of Greatness

A Closer Look

“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. 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. It's not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."
-Marianne Williamson


A beautiful synchronicity happened as a result of writing this article, as when I started the process I didn’t have even the slightest idea that Marianne Williamson is planning to run for US president. I just happened to stumble upon her quote once again, but this time it really spoke to me. It finally made sense. Now as I edit this piece with the knowledge of her action, I can’t help but to be inspired by the fact that she indeed practices what she preaches.

I’ve seen this quote many times before and somehow didn’t agree with it on an intellectual level. Surely we want to feel good about ourselves, human beings tend to avoid pain and seek pleasure—I thought. Feeling inadequate is not pleasurable, it is painful. That makes sense in theory, in practice however things are often different. So why is this? Why despite all the evidence of our strengths, do we often focus on our weaknesses? Why it is so scary to take risks? Why we often label situations as “too good to be true.” Why so many of us don’t believe in ourselves and our ability to do great things in the world, our ability to be truly happy.

First of all, it is the fear of the unknown. We simply don’t know what to expect from this greatness. Playing small no matter how limiting, is familiar. We are used to it, perhaps we observed it in our family or the immediate network of friends. It is this familiarity that creates a comfortable place to be for so many of us. When things are not too bad—there is a certain amount of pleasure experienced. Enough to keep us going. We might not be living our full potential but compared to so many others we are doing ok. This comfort zone is like a purgatory, it’s not hell so it’s bearable but it’s not heaven either. That’s not to say that in life of greatness there won’t be any mundane, routine elements. There will be. But instead of chasing meaningless excitement, what we so often do when something essential is missing, we will know that we are living our purpose which is the most fulfilling thing there is so how can we ever be bored?

Many great people in history who embraced their calling were misunderstood, not appreciated and even tortured. But times are changing and I believe now it is more important than ever to embrace our full potential, to come out of our shell, to become the best version of ourselves whatever that might entail. To be what we came here to be. It sounds like a big mission to accomplish and the level of responsibility is what further scares some of us away. But Rome wasn’t built in a day, small baby steps in the right direction is often all that we need to do.

Fear can be a strong force to deal with so it is worth getting to know the opponent and trying to befriend it. Fear originates in the most ancient, reptilian part of human brain which is mainly focused on survival and safety. It does not care if we are happy and fulfilled, its job is to keep us alive which was very useful for our ancestors in the hostile environments they had to survive in. In modern days it is still useful to a degree but most of the time it seems to hinder our progress if we let it. The unhealthy aspects of our ego thrive on fear, it’s what keeps them strong and the more fear we had to deal with in life, the more rigid our ego structure will be. It is a result of building defenses as an act of self preservation but long term it can be counterproductive.

Ironically, ego is more interested in making others think we are happy, than in actuality being happy. The form is valued above the substance in our society so as long as we appear great to others—we are doing “well.” Imagine trying something new and being ridiculed or laughed at? It is like a death for human ego, for image of ourselves that we have created. Paradoxically then the fear of greatness and fear of death are not that different. When life is about survival whether in physical or in psychological sense, it is by default not about thriving. But the truth is—other people are more concerned with their own lives, even the moments of discussing others are often used to feel better about oneself. So is it really that important what others think? I don’t think it is, so you only end up fooling yourself by faking things. Even with Marianne Williamson’s story some people are quick to point out how unrealistic her ambition is and that there is no way it will happen. I am not the one to judge as politics is not something I am massively interested in, however I believe that no matter the outcome, her action is an inspiration, a greatness in itself. She is giving us a hope, a vision. A vision of political leader with spiritual principles as opposed to one who is motivated mainly by greed and desire for power. Having a vision of something is a stepping stone that is much needed in order to manifest it in reality.

Another blockage that prevents many from acting on their hearts true desire is the standard package the society expects us all to have by a certain age. A degree, a good job, a house, a family, a pension—there aren’t many variations on the “to do list.” Again, the society cares very little if there’s any substance in all of the above, as long as there’s form. No wonder many are still unhappy despite ticking all of the boxes. I believe that in order to be fulfilled we need to lead meaningful lives. And meaningful can be different things for different people. Outside influence is not going to tell you what brings you joy, it takes experimenting and introspection to find that out. And yes—it involves taking risks. But for many the old school mentality of what should be achieved and by when creates a sort of a mental blockage called, “it’s too late for me to move the country, start my own business, find love, learn new language,” etc... The list is endless.

Different people have different talents and abilities, different strengths and weaknesses, different ways to perceive and process information, to create something new. Individuality should be celebrated and welcomed, not labelled as weirdness. Imagine if Mozart or Beethoven were born into a family that ignored their talent for music and pushed them into a direction of a safe job, of let's say, of an accountant. The world would miss out on so much beauty and inspiration that their music gave us. Yet, it happens every day—under the pressure of parents and society people pursue things that their hearts are not into.

The most beautiful part of embracing your unique gifts is the ripple effect it will cause. Just like Mariannes quote suggests—you will inspire others. I myself got inspired another day while reading the story about my friends dad who at the age of 70 not only finally overcame a depression that lasted for 30 years, he also started a new career—completely uncharacteristic for his age and yet one he is very good at it. But that is a story for another article. 

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