But if you’re afraid of walking down a deserted road at night or scared to enter a restaurant full of maskless patrons during a pandemic, dread could stop you in your tracks and guarantee your safety.
Luvvie Ajayi Jones has built a career — no, an entire brand — on battling that first type of fear. The longtime blogger-turned-author and public speaker gave a 2017 TED talk titled “Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable,” which urged listeners to speak truth to power and be true to themselves. (“Comfort is overrated, because being quiet is comfortable. Keeping things the way they’ve been is comfortable, and all comfort has done is maintain the status quo,” she says in the talk, which is infused with an activist spirit. The video has garnered millions of views.)
Her new book, “Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual,” is a how-to and a call to action, with dashes of memoir, challenging readers to do what scares them to improve their own lives and bolster the greater good. It’s a logical follow-up to her debut, “I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual.”
But make no mistake, Ajayi Jones isn’t outlining steps to conquer or vanquish fear. That’s impossible, she says, and anyone who tells you otherwise is probably lying to your face.
“You can’t tell me you’re walking through this world afraid of nothing,” she says. We’ll never stop being frightened, “because life doesn’t stop throwing us curveballs. Life doesn’t stop popping up things that are scary, even if they’re small.”
In that spirit, here are two of Ajayi Jones’s own fears — one recent, one ongoing.
Talking about her therapist’s death
Ajayi Jones adored her therapist. Adored. She praised Yvonne Patterson on Twitter and repeatedly references her in “Professional Troublemaker.”
“I’ve been going to therapy for four years, and I’ve been pretty honest about it, and there’s a lot of stigma attached to therapy,” she says. “But I wanted to normalize the conversation. Let’s talk about our therapists just like we talk about our personal trainers, because therapy is cardio for your mind.”
In mid-January, Ajayi Jones was scheduled for a session. The day before, she learned her therapist had died. She was shattered. She wanted to speak publicly about her grief but felt uncertain. Would that be gauche? Inappropriate? Dishonorable?
“It was a moment where I was like, I’m afraid this might seem like it’s about me,” she says, adding: “I’m afraid that somebody will see this and judge it.”
Ultimately, that didn’t stop her.
“I’m stumped. I’m stunned. I’m gutted,” she wrote in a thoughtful blog post about her therapist’s passing. “Who helps you process the sudden death of the person who helps you process life?”
The responses, she says, blew her mind. Scroll through the comments and you may be moved, too.
“I lost my therapist of 12 years on Christmas. It continues to be a complicated and confusing loss,” one reader wrote.
“I too am stunned, devastated, and numb. Dr. P was my therapist for the past 13 months,” another shared.
“What an amazing tribute you have written for my sister, Dr P,” Andre Patterson wrote. “I want you to know that hearing things like this about my baby sister will help keep her memory alive.”
Learning to drive
For many, learning to operate a motor vehicle is a rite of passage. For Ajayi Jones, it’s a mountain to climb.
She’s afraid of driving, which explains why she doesn’t have a license.
Her friends have tried to teach her, she notes. So has her sister. Her husband made an attempt. And yet: “I am so afraid of crashing that I’m like eek. I don’t know where it came from. It’s something to unpack with my next therapist.”
Will she ever learn? “Absolutely,” she says. She’s in fear-fighting mode. While Ajayi Jones and wheels “just don’t get along in general,” she did notch a win in September, when her husband taught her to ride a bike. (“I had all the safety gear and everything,” she adds.) She’s building up the gumption to tackle the car.
Which brings us to another point: While “Professional Troublemaker” is obviously available to the public, the author admits she wrote this book for herself. “I’m just letting other people read it,” she says with a laugh. But certainly, she has located the universal in the personal.
We are all afraid, frequently, of one thing or another — of trying and failing, speaking up and offending, of being vulnerable, or honest about what we want, or misunderstood. But here’s the good news: Fear is the red-hot center of bravery. The two can’t be disentangled.
“The thing about courage is you can’t have it without fear,” Ajayi Jones says. “You got to be afraid before you can have courage, because if you weren’t afraid, it wasn’t courageous.”
Nneka McGuire is a multiplatform editor at The Lily.