How three little words from the Archbishop changed my life for the good
I’ll always be grateful for his wise and wry advice.
I did some digital design work for Archbishop Desmond Tutu, around 15 years ago.
The first time I met the Archbishop, my team and I had to stand in line at his office.
As he came to greet me, he asked, “What’s your name?”
I replied, “I’m Fred.”
He looked at me earnestly and said, “Do not be afraid.”
I was confused. He’d heard me incorrectly. I repeated, “No, I’m Fred!”
He looked even closer and said, “No! You mustn’t be afraid!”
I was stunned, and didn’t know what to say. Then, I noticed a twinkle appear in his eye.
Suddenly, Archbishop Tutu broke into his trademark giggle. Everyone in his team burst out laughing. I realised that he was joking.
The fact is, I was afraid.
Tutu had been my hero ever since the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. I was studying in Denmark when I first saw the weekly video summaries of the commission’s interviews.
They were intense and visceral. South Africa was in an existential crisis. Tutu somehow managed to thread a spiritual needle through the most emotionally terrifying of tapestries.
I was afraid not just because I was meeting my idol. I was afraid because, as an entrepreneur, I wanted to deliver on a promise I’d made. I wanted to do a great job and live up to his faith in me.
We’ve seen this fear in much of the research we’ve been doing through the Heavy Chef Foundation, the nonprofit arm of our entrepreneur learning platform, heavychef.com.
It is the root of so many of the terms that prevail in the start-up sector. Imposter syndrome. Fake it till you make it. Burnout.
These terms are rooted in dark places. These are the cracks from which the boogeyman appears.
These terms pervade the language of our community. So, truth: I still live with this fear.
In order to combat my anxieties, I have a morning ritual. As soon as I wake up each day, I breathe deeply. I scan my thoughts for gratitude.
I journal the things I’m grateful for, then make a list of people and situations to pray for. Lastly, I make a single intention for the day.
This ritual keeps me grounded. It reframes the natural fears of being an entrepreneur into positivity – and importantly, it turns my energy towards intentionality.
This ritual works for me most days. Even so, it’s not always enough. There are days, there are months, there are seasons, when the fear prevails.
Out of curiosity, do you know what the most common phrase in the Bible is?
It’s “Do not be afraid”. So why are we all so scared?
Social anthropologists will point to the utility of anxiety in evolution.
We’re wired to be scared. It keeps the species alive. In fact, it’d be weird if we’re not a little afraid.
In the entrepreneur sector, I’d say that it’s because we’re fighting for our lives, most days.
The University of the Western Cape recently reported that 80 per cent of South African businesses fail within the first three years.
I have often referred to entrepreneurship as a form of Russian roulette.
Think of a gun with 100 chambers, filling 80 of them with bullets, then pulling the trigger.
This is what each year of being in business is like. What’s the antidote? I believe that it’s community, grounded in gratitude.
Heavy Chef Foundation’s research backs this up. As my colleague Louis points out, “The strongest predictor of entrepreneurial success is the frequency and quality of interactions between peers.”
This means, get out there. Let us share our struggles. Meet with other business owners. Meet with our mentors.
Let’s network. Let’s make time for that coffee date. Reach out to our peers.
Heck, let’s even reach out to our competitors and break bread with them.
It is these interactions that shield us. Gratitude helps us stay present and positive. It gives us the energy and direction we need to keep moving towards the goal.
Community is the net that catches us when we inevitably fall, giving us the courage to get up again.
Don’t be afraid.
Fred Roed is the founder and CEO of Heavy Chef, a learning platform for entrepreneurs.