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Don’t let fear be an obstacle

Patrick Burke

Patrick Burke

Don’t let fear be an obstacle


“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” — Franklin D. Roosevelt, March 4, 1933

President Roosevelt spoke those words nine decades ago last month in his first inaugural address to a frightened and beaten down America.  Some believe the President’s advisors, now called speechwriters, reworded a quote from Sir Francis Bacon, and English Philosopher who wrote 300 years earlier: “Nothing is terrible except fear itself,” for Roosevelt’s  oft quoted line.

One of the President’s advisors working in the White House in 1933 was thirty-nine-year-old Napoleon Hill who, at the time, was writing what would become his bestselling book, “Think and Grow Rich”, published in 1937, a year after he left the White House.  It was startling to me how many of the same fears Hill detailed exist today in the most prosperous country in the world, and in many ways provide a glimpse of the troubles we experience in our business and personal lives.

Hill identified six basic fears: the fears of poverty, criticism, ill health, loss of love or affection, old age, and death. He talks about indecision and doubt being the seedling of all fears, which slowly crystalizes into the paralyzing tranquilizer called worry.

Let’s look at some of the symptoms of these fears Hill articulated and see how they may create limitations on our ability to reach full potential:

  • The fear of poverty comes from our concern over losing what we have accumulated or a job and leads to over caution, procrastination, lack of initiative and ambition. Hill’s writes it is inherent in our instinctive make up of being predator or prey. It’s a worry that becomes champion of the status quo.
  • The fear of criticism displays itself in unhealthy self-consciousness about what others think and can allow us to become withdrawn from conversations that require imaginative thinking; it can get one in a cycle of trying to” keep up with the Joneses” or create an overwhelming fear of rejection that confines effort and blunts ambition.
  • The fears of ill-health and old age have created some of the most watched shows on cable television and anti-aging fads in American history. We can become preoccupied with stopping, or reversing, the aging process, rather than embrace and share the wisdom that comes from life’s experiences.
  • The fear of the loss of love or affection manifests itself in jealousy and other forms of “dementia praecox”. It creates a general unfounded suspicion of family, friends, and business associates. A person overtaken by this fear exhibits the habit of finding fault with people and things they encounter.

Hill refers to the fear of death as the cruelest of all fears. He says leaders of sectarianism ply their trade by crying out:  “Come into my tent, embrace my faith, accept my dogmas, and I will give you a ticket that will admit you straightaway when you die; remain out of my tent, and may the devil take you and burn you throughout eternity.”  It creates in people the worry of dying rather than living with purpose.

In the end, fear becomes the wedge of discouragement that keeps many people from reaching their full potential. Don’t be afraid to be great.

Patrick Burke is the managing principal of Burke Group, a Rochester-based retirement plan consulting & administration, actuarial services and compensation consulting firm. Contact him at [email protected].