Illustration by Martín Elfman
In a new book, Luvvie Ajayi Jones explains why we can’t let fear interfere with who we want to be.
Fear can be a powerful adversary.
Who can’t think of a time when being scared has stopped them from saying or doing something they should have?
Fear of failure, of the unknown, of being different, can be paralyzing. If you choose not to apply for a job because you’re afraid you may not get it, well guess what? You don’t get the job.
But a little fear can also be a good thing.
Ask anyone who’s rushing to meet a deadline how inspiring the feeling can be. We’re sometimes told to “live without fear,” but maybe the better challenge is to embrace, harness, and work through the fear that stops us from seizing opportunities as they arise. At least, that’s what writer and speaker Luvvie Ajayi Jones argues.
“It comes down to ensuring that we are not moving through the world purely motivated by what is scary and what is not,” Ajayi Jones says. “The fear that keeps you from putting your hand in a fire or jumping off a major building without a parachute is the same thing that’s keeping us from going for the job we want, or asking for a raise, or going for the degree that feels out of our grasp.”
In her new book, Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual (out March 2 from Penguin Life), Ajayi Jones shares her approach to tackling fear and living boldly.
To her, a troublemaker is not someone who’s up to mischief. It’s somebody who is committed to always telling the truth and showing up as themselves in order to make the world a more just place—that is, a person who refuses to let fear interfere with things they want to do and say.
“To exist in this world, you’re going to have to do scary things,” the author says.
“Sometimes the scary thing isn’t going skydiving. Sometimes it’s having a tough conversation with somebody you love about how they’ve hurt you. That is troublemaking because in that moment you are not prioritizing harmony; you’re prioritizing truth.”
Ajayi Jones offers several foundational principles to help her readers make good trouble (as the late civil-rights hero John Lewis would say). It begins with understanding how to be ourselves, recognizing our own insecurities, and focusing on the things we need to work on that allow us to show up.
Once we’ve adjusted our mind-sets, we have to learn how to use our voices for the greater good and be prepared to speak up, even when that may be difficult.
Finally, we have to attach actions to our words, to create the change we want to see.
These lessons seem particularly pertinent today when many of us are weathering challenges of a kind we’ve never encountered before. The mountain ahead may be daunting, but by facing our fears and taking the journey step by step, it’s possible to reach the top.
“Fearlessness does not mean you are without fear,” Ajayi Jones says. “It means you are afraid, but you move forward regardless.”