Nelson Mandela: May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears

After enduring 27 years in South African jail for speaking out against racism, revolutionary-politician-philanthropist Nelson Mandela (South African, July 18, 1918 – Dec. 5, 2013) went on to serve as South Africa’s most internationally acclaimed president. Nowadays, many there refer to him as ‘Father of the Nation.’ (By the way, check out this gorgeous quotation that’s wrongly attributed to him.)

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 quotes about having confidence and being brave, 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 you hold yourself back?