In the 2006 film Akeelah and the Bee, young Akeelah faces the opportunity of a lifetime. An African American girl from Crenshaw, California, and the product of a single-parent home, she goes all the way to the national spelling bee. During her ascent to the bee, however, Akeelah must overcome fear, insecurity and peer pressure in order to win the spelling bee.
A former UCLA English professor steps in as Akeelah's mentor or "Great Bellini." (Read my July 20th post Creating a Legacy of Purpose to discover this Bellini.) He coaches her in the art of language, not settling for his protegee simply learning how to spell big words. He teaches her to break words down into bite size pieces to discover their meaning. With Dr. Larabee's help, Akeelah becomes a master of words.
In my favorite scene, Dr. Larabee asks Akeelah to read a poem that he has displayed on the wall. Here's the poem, written by Marianne Williamson, in its entirety:
"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."
After Akeelah reads the poem, Dr. Larabee asks her, "What does it mean?" She struggles to find an answer, and he challenges her. "It's written in plain English. What does it mean?"
"I shouldn't be afraid," she replies.
"Afraid of what?"
"Afraid of --" She turns away from the wall and faces her teacher. "Of me?"
Akeelah's biggest fear is not that she will embarrass herself or not live up to others' expectations or lose the spelling bee. Failure is not what she fears most.
Her greatest fear is success. (watch this clip from the movie by clicking here)
At first glance that might sound ridiculous. Fear of failure is pretty obvious, but fear of success? Who would be afraid of success?
One word: Me.
The November 2010 issue of The Oprah Magazine examines the theme: "What's Your True Calling?" (A great resource if you're attempting to lead people of multiple spiritual beliefs to their purpose. Thankfully we've got the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to guide us!) Well, that issue included a quiz entitled, "What's Holding You Back?" There were eight sets of questions designed to lead readers to their greatest fear: fear of failure, fear of success or fear of disapproval.
Mind you, I had answers in that quiz that revealed fear in all three categories. But much to my surprise, I largely fell in the "fear of success" category. Here's a short excerpt from the quiz's explanation of the fear of success:
"You're fairly confident in your abilities, but you balk at the pressure of maintaining success once you have it. You know that your achievements will breed higher expectations, and you worry that you won't be able to meet them. You may even be experiencing what psychologists call impostor syndrome, the fear that those around you will discover you're not really as talented or competent as they think."Ouch. It hurts just typing this out. But it's true. Those of us with a fear of success enjoy success for a moment, then wait for the fallout. We're afraid we'll be asked to perform again, and we won't do nearly as well as we did the first time. Or, even scarier, someone finds out we're not as smart and talented as everyone else thinks.
Well, here's a newsflash for myself, and anyone else struggling underneath this crushing fear. We don't have to rely on our smarts or looks or creativity or talent to pursue our purpose. We have CHRIST to rely on. We have Christ that we must rely on. And it's by His grace that we experience any victory in the area of purpose.
In Rising To the Occasion (Day 10) we peered into the life of Esther, wife of King Xerxes of Persia. Storybooks and movies often depict Esther as a brave heroine, waiting for the opportunity to step to the plate and save her people. But if we look at Esther honestly we see great fear in her heart.
Let's take a quick look at this story again:
"Then [Esther] instructed him to say to Mordecai, 'All the king's officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that he be put to death. The only exception to this is for the king to extend the gold scepter to him and spare his life. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.'"Esther wasn't just afraid for her life. She wasn't just afraid of offending the king. She was afraid that her sparkle had died. A lowly Jewish orphan girl had made it all the way to the King's Palace, but did she still have "it"? After all, the king hadn't called her into his bedroom in over a month. Had some concubine become the newest "it" girl? Maybe she'd been found out; she wasn't nearly as beautiful and fabulous as the king had once thought.
And what of this new calling? She didn't ask to be a heroine. When the king's eunuchs administered twelve full months of beauty treatments and pampering, they didn't train her to be superwoman - saving a nation of people. Surely, Esther longed for the days of obscurity. The days when no one asked much of her. The days when she was -- well, a lowly Jewish orphan girl.
But God had a higher purpose for Esther's life. And it really wasn't about her. It was about a nation of people, and ultimately, the Lord's renown.
The same goes for our purposes. It's really not about us. So we don't have to be perfect. We don't have to get it right every time. We don't have to outdo ourselves over and over again. We just have to glorify Him.
I'm going to follow God and His purpose for me despite the infamous "fear of me." Will you?
Purposed For Him,