When it is Our Light, Not Our Darkness that Most Frightens Us by da-AL

“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.”

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (South African, July 18, 1918 – Dec. 5, 2013)

After enduring 27 years in South African jail for speaking out against racism, revolutionary-politician-philanthropist Nelson Mandela went on to serve as South Africa’s most internationally acclaimed president. Nowadays, many there refer to him as ‘Father of the Nation.’

Nelson Mandela wearing the colorful 'Madiba' shirts he became known for. Photo courtesy of Wiki
Nelson Mandela wearing the colorful ‘Madiba’ shirts he became known for. Photo courtesy of Wiki

Each time I read his famous quote, I am reminded of the times I’ve shocked myself by seeing how sneaky my fear of success can be. As a kid, I worried that setting myself apart would invite criticism, jealousy, and ostracism.

Those fears persist, but in ways that I have to be extra vigilant to detect. Anyone who is thoughtful and who puts their heart into their work knows that insensitive and sometimes even ill-willed people exist within all realms of one’s life. It’s not always easy to not give a damn, but somehow I must slog through the self-doubts that others trigger in me and that I can supply in generous quantities on my own.

Fortunately, at times I know I’m good, and that there are great people all around me. Good and bad and alternating, Mandela is right to point that that being our best selves benefits everyone.

As an adult, only an hour after I had won an Emmy Award, a stranger asked me how the honor felt. My reply was so awkward that he went so far as to remind me that I had indeed won it. Months afterward, telling people about it continued to be a  confusing affair.

Now when I’m frustrated by not accomplishing my goals as quickly as I’d like, I remind myself of Mandela’s wise encouragement. Sometimes I need to be patient. Other times, I see that I need a major emotional overhaul, which at first glance can appear impossible to achieve. That can involve looking for examples of other people doing what I’d like to do. Talking with people who’s judgment I trust also usually helps. Allowing myself to be uncomfortable with the process is crucial. Patience is always rewarded.

Are there times when you hold yourself back? Are there ways you overcome the ‘shrinking’ that Mandela refers to?

More about Mandela

25 thoughts on “When it is Our Light, Not Our Darkness that Most Frightens Us by da-AL

    • I believe Mandela is addressing exactly that – he’s saying that our worrying about overshadowing others is something we should not consider – because our being our best sets an example for others, in addition to it helping others.

      Liked by 2 people

        • I believe this is the point of it all. Keeping with the metaphor, light cannot per sé overshadow anyone.. because it’s light! What one can do is to create a shadow by putting one’s ego in between, and with that cast a shadow on someone. But I thing there’s a whole piece of the picture missing here. I think what Omoackin is referring to is the situation in which someone’s brightness might engulf other people’s shine and make it appear diminished in the eye of a third person (such as in the case of a teacher and a classroom with an outstanding person in it). Things get a bit messy in that case, and not straightforward. But then it’s up to the really brilliant person how she uses her light: pointing it in the eye of the beholder, or enhancing the light of others and guiding them along the way. Lighting up others does not diminish one’s own, unless egoism gets in the way.

          Liked by 3 people

          • This is an important conversation, omoackin & Andy — I agree, omoackin, that it’s a difficult thing to do — & with Andy’s explanation

            for me, a simpler personal analogy might be to do with health. I was a fat kid. as a teen, I began to lose weight. I encountered jealousy and people wanting me to stay familiar. it would have been so very easy to give in & just stay fat — but in the greater scheme of things, who would that have benefited? as individuals, we need examples of things to strive for, rather than examples that help us not feel bad about not doing our best. as citizens of the world an unhealthy life is a drain on resources

            we must all encourage each other to be our best. Mandela must have known well of this & how hard it can be at times – otherwise why did he make a point of telling us?

            Liked by 2 people

  1. In wanting to write about insecurity I found myself trying to tackle such a lofty topic with no clear angle or answer to my own struggles with insecurity. The words, “It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us” insist that we change our view of who we are. Thank you for the reminder “that being our best selves benefits everyone.” Here’s to the journey of seeing the light within ourselves and sharing its radiant beauty with everyone.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for this moving reminder that we’re daughters and sons of light da-AL. There’s always the tendency of not maxing our potentials because of other people’s insecurities but this only slows us down on our journey of becoming who we were born to be. “The place of the lamp is not underneath the bed.”

    Liked by 1 person

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