At the Barnard College Commencement 2011, Sheryl Sandberg closed her speech with a question, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” While contemplating what fear was, an incident happened back in high school swiftly caught my attention. Next thing I knew, I revisited my greatest fear again.
In the 9th grade, my liberal education class focused on politics and our final project was presenting a news article with our own commentary. Wanting to make it more challenging, I signed up for the last one so that I would have to come up with something different than the entire class. The article I chose was about the arrest of a high profile businessman by the ICAC (Independent commission Against Corruption). I articulated my points indicating ICAC used negative press as a form of castigation when evidence was insubstantial for prosecution. I dug out previous cases showing the patterned of official arrests that did not proceed for further action.
From the astonished looks of my classmates, I knew I nailed it and I was so excited. My teacher, Miss Chan, commented my presentation and I remembered every word she said till this day. Miss Chan spoke with contempt, “That is a remarkable presentation. It will be even better if that is your own idea (implying I plagiarized).” With a perfect score, I walked back to my seat in tears, heartbroken by her shameful comment.
What troubled me still is not a horrible teacher in high school but my craven behavior. I have had the opportunity to defend myself yet I was so afraid to even sound a word. My circumstances coming from a low socioeconomic status family and attending a “ghetto” high school should not directly correlate my academic success with dishonesty. I dreadfully gave in to fear of not being heard and surrendered my dignity.
Fear is such a paradoxical emotion. From the evolutionary perspective, it is natural and it is what protects us from dangerous situations. This survival mechanism enables us to process threats immediately and respond with a fight-or-flight reaction. However, it is also fear that holds us back from stepping out of our comfort zone. Joanna Brooks phrases it beautifully, "courage doesn’t mean being free from fear; it means learning to work through fear and speak even when we are afraid."
Recently I had the opportunity to have some phenomenal discussions with a great friend. In an in-depth and intense chat on equality, it daunted on me that I did not speak of what I believed in enough. Working through my fear of not being heard, we honestly spoke about our fears, past experiences and, aspiration. I am grateful for all the inspirations and sunshine he has brought into my life. His courageous action facing his biggest fear has inspired me to step out of the shadow of fear, so I now take my step sharing what I truly believe in on this blog. I wish every woman get to be her potential and choose for herself even facing the greatest fear in her life.
Now it's your turn. “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?”