When I was young, everything intimidated me and nothing intimidated me. I used my youth and naivety to ask direct questions, seek candid answers, and show genuine curiosity. That personality trait served me well as I grew up to become a TV journalist with a long career in American network news.
While I am no longer young or naïve, I remain curious about people’s everyday struggle. Living in a college town like Cambridge, and working in an office building between Harvard and MIT, I am surrounded by Ivy League students who aren’t always ready to ask questions that might reveal what they don’t know. Everyone seems to think everyone else is smarter. The unspeakable competitive environment misleads one to feel deeply insecure inside, and easily intimidated by the show knowledge. (Or what I’d call – bluffing)
Last week, during morning prayers at the Appleton Chapel at Harvard, a graduating senior described openly her sense of insecurity during her freshmen year. She is a Catholic and trying to join a Catholic group on campus.
“Everyone acts and talks like they know perfectly about their faith, and I don’t! That makes me feel like an outsider. It’s intimidating.” “Mary” vented.
Now as she counts down the days before Commencement in late May, she has discovered that what once intimidated her has lost its sting. Over time, she has learned that what truly matters is that she keeps striving to learn about her faith, about herself and about being of service to others. It’s not about being “perfect.” It’s about keeping up her effort and staying true to a calling.
For many of us, whatever it is that feels so intimidating at one time or another is bound to pass. Our egos may be fragile, but its fragility is also fleeting once we realize that no one is perfectly knowledgeable all the time. As “Mary” has learned to see what’s intimidating as the first sign, not the final word, about how important her faith is to her. And faith is such a personal practice over one’s lifetime, a belief system that requires constant soul-searching, questioning and re-affirming. Faith is not about being perfectly knowledgeable about the doctrines or rituals. It is a commitment to keep it up no matter how little or how much one can truly know.
Beyond faith, I’ve come to reckon that what intimidates you is ultimately based on your reaction to it, your relationship with it and your reflection on it.
When you reflect on what is it in your own position or thinking that gives you trouble, you might discover that the solution lies in your relationship with it. Does your life depend on this thing that intimidates you? Why is it that you give so much power over to this intimidating thing or person? How can you treat the source of intimidation as information to improve rather than to judge yourself?
Once we learn to neutralize it in our reaction, seeing it as a source of inspiration, we can regain control over what first strikes us like a lightning rod.