My Greatest Fear
by Ernest Sears, Jr.
Like others of you out there, I have had my share of life challenges and hardships. But the one trip that seems to have been my Mount Everest is the fear that my voice was not important: that there was no weight or value to my words, and that I would be simply overlooked since no one could relate to my peculiar reality. In other words, “No one understands you, so be quiet.
Those of us who are lucky enough to be “thinkers” occasionally spend time reflecting on feedback we receive along the way – constructive and otherwise – in order to continue to grow and develop. Some examples are:
“You are too short.”
“You are too quiet.”
“You talk too much.”
“You have a chip on your shoulder.”
“You are arrogant.”
“You think you are better than other people.”
“You are too black.”
“You are not black enough,” etc.
Obviously, there is a limit to our ability to make behavior modifications, but in the pursuit of true growth, we should always make a good faith effort.
I grew up the eldest of three in the projects of New Orleans to an intermittently single parent who worked several jobs to take care of us. My little brother, sister, and I were stereotypical latchkey kids who often came home to an empty house. It was my duty as the eldest to make sure my brother and sister did their homework, ate dinner, took baths, and went to bed on time.
By the time I was 8, I had already experienced true life tragedy. My dad was a drug runner for the New Orleans Mafia boss, Carlos Marcello, and was murdered shortly after being released from prison in 1971 for “leaking” secrets to inmates. They threw his body into Bayou St. John, and he was identified several weeks later with the help of a key cross-reference: my mother’s photo was in his wallet.
Four years later, my siblings and I were present when, a week before Christmas, my aunt was murdered by her husband during an argument while we were spending the weekend with our cousin. During 1976, the following year, we have no memory whatsoever of my mother, who we learned later was hospitalized most of that year for a nervous breakdown. While we were growing up, anything could happen at any time. So very little time was spent talking about the future, dreams, or even the importance of school. We were so preoccupied with basic survival that thinking about the future seemed trivial and impractical. Simply put, we were happy to have survived at the end of each day.
At school, I was ridiculed because I enunciated and spoke proper English; many family members and others of authority dismissed my attempts at self-expression as merely “putting on airs” or trying to be something I was not. For as long as I can remember, I was expected to be seen and not heard. Nevertheless, as a result of growing up with the responsibility of taking care of my siblings, I still see myself as the protector in any group of people I find myself. Being a caretaker is convenient, since it is a role that doesn’t require that you fit in. But it does require that you sometimes speak out on behalf of a friend or provide insight that is useful to others. The objectivity of an outsider can be very reliable!
Around the end of middle school, I began to realize that my words and point of view could greatly help others. Perhaps the natural progression of adolescence and the normal rebellion that comes with it gave me the courage to begin to speak out; I started expressing my thoughts and giving others a voice even when unsolicited (and with little regard for how others might judge my diction). It had been natural for me to make sure others were OK – to be a caretaker, even if this meant sacrificing my own needs. I had done this all my life. But now I do it openly, consciously and fully aware of my life’s pattern, preconditioning, and knowing that my motivation is pure.
This is the “a-ha” moment from which I was able enjoy the view from the top of Mount Everest. And from that day on, I have celebrated the sound of my own voice. I embrace my unique role and purpose. This realization has shaped the rest of my life. I know that I will never be silenced – unless the impressions I leave with those whose lives I touch are forgotten.
During a management career spanning 22 years, Ernest Sears, Jr. worked in C-level roles, garnering numerous awards for coaching expertise and creating winning culture. With a BA in Linguistics from Yale and an MBA from W.P. Carey School of Business, he focused primarily on building cohesive, self-sufficient, high-performing teams in corporate environments. Reaching his own turning point and crisis of meaning triggered the writing of his first book, DETOX YOUR CIRCLE. Ernest is the father of two adult daughters and for the past 25 years has been the life partner of Kiana Maria Storey-Sears. Learn more: DetoxYourCircle.com.