“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.”
When I was 12 years old someone handed me a note with this Nelson Mandela quote on it. They told me that it reminded them of me, and that I should take some time to understand why that might be.
At a moment in time where I was deeply troubled by the world growing inside me, as well as the world I saw around me, this quote did no less than change my life; so much so that I got half of the quote tattooed on my body; a sort of keepsake to keep me grounded in the path that I knew, even then, that I wanted to go down.
But what does this quote really mean? I think it strikes people most because it is so beautifully writen. The insight of these words is automatic, you can feel it without even needing to understand it. And that was what first really perplexed me when I read it.
But when I delved into the substantive content of the words, I became more than that, I became enlightened.
I think it is important to take from quotes your own message; that is the beauty in words, their shades of meaning; but here is what I took from it then, and what I indeed still take from it now.
Nelson Mandela speaks to the freedom that lives in all of us. He speaks to the way in which we define our freedom by the shackles of our fear, but also to how our fears are nothing compared to the weight of our potential. Mandela speaks to a social construction of fear that is imbedded within all of us; the mundane and superficial fears which speak not a word of the real fears that lurk beneath our human surfaces.
Because our truest demons are those that highlight our individual potential for greatness; our individual potential for endless possibility and impact. The part of us that we are told exists; the part we know exists, but the part that we are scared to uncover.
Why? In a world focused on success, why on earth would we be scared to know parts of ourselves that could better aid the development and attainment of such successes?
I know for me, I was scared of my own greatness. I was scared of having a voice that could impact the world. Because surely that would mean that my place in the world was far bigger than I could ever have imagined; and therefore, that the things that I did; the person I was; the greatness I had, could actually affect people. And I think that can be lot scarier than being inadequate. Mediocrity can be safe, it breeds less expectation. Yet none of us were born to be part of an apathetic majority. We were born to be individuals with purpose; with a voice and a body and a soul that could move mountains in whatever arena we so choose to do so.
But part of that innate strength comes from knowing yourself first, from freeing yourself from the boundaries that both you and the world have placed on your being. Part of that freedom is losing yourself in yourself, and coming out not without fears, but being more courageous than you would ever have dared to be before. It is only when we better understand our potentials, and stop letting our excuses dictate our movements, that we can begin to recognise the insurmountable potential that lives in all of us; the ability for growth and change and insight that each of us has. And it is in understanding the expansive space that each of us occupies on this earth that we can begin to break away from our truest fear; ourselves and our greatness. It is only when we break our barriers down that we can know freedom, and it is here that Mandela rightfully says we unconsciously begin to exhume permission for others to be brave enough to do the same.
And I think what strikes me most now that I am older is the innate humility in Mandela’s words. Because I think fear can teach us a lot about humility. It was in my fear of my own greatness that I discovered my most humble moments; that though I could be great, I was not infallible, that I would inevitably know sorrow and failure, and that sometimes, my light would not be as strong as my body. And it was in that balancing between my potential for greatness and my inevitable shortcomings of fearing that potential, that I discovered a discreet humility in my actions towards my own greatness and in promoting the greatness of others.
I think fear is then part of what makes us human, and courage does not require that you are unafraid; Courage means standing in the face of fear and letting our greatness be more than that fear. Humility then becomes the recognition of your fear, the acknowledgement you could fail, and the relentless efforts to nevertheless keep going.
It becomes natural that you would exhume an inner confidence and peace. And it is found in this purposeful existence an uplifting strength that stretches to all those around you. And that to me, that is as true as it is beautiful.
That is my interpretation, but tell me, what is yours?