Accepting fear: The simple story
In the last entry into fear, origins of the emotion were explored. An equally necessary endeavor is exploring how it continues to persist. “When I was 27, I grew accustomed to more fear,” is how Kendrick has the speaker start the third and final verse of his song. Once again, fear is being normalized as we age. After fear is developed, it gets accepted in our psyche as a normalcy of life. In the second verse of the song, Kendrick starts most lines with the phrase, “I’ll prolly die.” Although Kendrick doesn’t say it directly, it is implied that he has accepted fear as a part of his life and is willing to accept an early death. This fear has manifested throughout his life and affected his decision-making. In the acceptance of fear, consequences expand and become a hyperbole of the complex story life actually tells. Fear relies on the simple story to thrive and remain powerful in the minds of us all. A simple story is built on cause and effect: an input and an output. Simple actions lead to grave results. Jennifer Garvey Berger states in an article about simple stories, “… you don’t need to stop using these stories; you just need to interrupt your belief in those times when they most seriously get in your way. The key to unlocking the trap of simple stories is to make them more complex.” To put it another way, fear is nurtured by a simple story. The inability to notice a simple story and make it complex leaves no room for redemption, intervention, or the fact that problems require more than the threat of a simple spanking. My simple story told me that my small HBCU in Tennessee was no match for the Harvards and Yales of the world. My simple story built a path for me to accept fear and cement myself as an imposter. Of course, as the story becomes more complex, we note that some of the finest Black minds came from HBCUs. With a more complex story, we find that I’ve been in rooms with Harvard and Yale graduates before and was intellectually capable of performing at their level and beyond. I noticed that fear did not have to be accepted; I need to build out the story I was telling myself.
Fear as a Driving Force: Success?
At this stage, fear is now driving life, decisions and actions. In the third verse, the speaker says, “All this money, is God playin’ a joke on me? … At 27, my biggest fear was losin’ it all … Scared to spend money, had me sleepin’ from hall to hall.” Regardless of Kendrick’s success, he still struggles with the fear of losing everything and cannot enjoy it. Fear still maintains a strong hold on him, regardless of his accomplishments. This fear of loss drives the imposter syndrome that is an epidemic for people of color. The fear of losing money, respect and status actually plays a role in stealing our joy of these things when we achieve them. Even more noticeable in this verse is the fact that the speaker’s voice is louder, more enunciated, and more confident. Even with this new found confidence, fear still plagues the actions of the speaker. Imagine all of the confident people you have met, and now add complexity to their stories knowing how trauma can haunt people while still allowing them to show outward confidence. How does someone who has experienced success deal with fear? Veronica Saldivar suggests that successful people need a “paradigm shift …” and hitting “… the “pause” button can help you assess how and why you’re wired the way you are.” This is an extremely difficult, and necessary, task for someone consumed by fear. The task becomes increasingly difficult if the person in question cannot recognize the fear that is present within them. For Kendrick, he has the speaker ask to define the point of success in which denial is no more, “… How many accolades do I need to block denial? The shock value of my success put bolts in me …” The speaker is essentially communicating that the fear we feel is here no matter what we accomplish. We can only remove the bolts by acknowledging that fear exists and then releasing it from your consciousness by examining its origin, and dispelling long standing myths within your psyche that drive how you think about life. For me, the shock and bolt manifested itself through fear of taking on executive leadership. That fear grew the more I thought about how other people might perceive my leadership. I had to essentially test my assumptions that upheld fear in my heart to dispel the myths that held me hostage. As I tested my fears by asking questions, meeting with people, and doing the things I was fearful of, I noticed that most of the fears I held were not real. This new knowledge gave me a new mind to operate in freedom over fear. Power over pain.
Fear is indeed a strong emotion and a driving force in many people, particularly people of color navigating white power structures. In some people, it drives them to stay in a place of despair or stagnation. In others, fear drives them to societal success and accolades. Fear leads us to be less than truthful with ourselves. It does this in a way that makes our failures mean more than they should and our triumphs hollow because they were born from a place that was inauthentic to our true nature. This idea of fear haunts so many leaders of color through a manifesting notion of imposter syndrome. King Kendrick shows us how our fear is born, sustained and can even drive us to success. Our power and task now lies in us revisiting where this fear was born so we can reverse engineer its existence and take back the power that we deserve.
Patrick Jones II is senior vice president of leadership and equity at The Mind Trust.