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Too Afraid To Shine

Updated: Apr 29, 2023

A couple of months ago, I was reacquainted with a reincarnation of my younger self. She waltzed through my office door prettier, more vivacious, slenderer than I was when I was her age, and seemingly more confident than I was back then, and, yet still, me, masquerading in a different body.

It was the eve of an important firm programme and we were in the middle of a dry-run. My superstar turned to me and said in a whisper, “The very thought of tomorrow’s programme petrifies me. What if I stutter, freeze or go blank? I answered in almost silence “I am nervous myself, you know!”

Eyebrows raised, disbelief splashed across her face, then an undulating wry smile, which screamed – don’t play the “we are all in this mantra” to make me feel better about myself. It would have been great if that was the reality, because it would have spared me a leader vulnerable moment. Our laughter reverberating in the hallway, we would sermonize about the distinct character of fear, to empower or overpower.

I remember too well, my first year at the University of Ghana. I was too eager to hang in the shadows and blend with the tapestry. It was my safe place. No expectations, no judgment. I would tiptoe into our Constitutional Law tutorial class with trepidation. It was not because I had nothing important to say, I did. I was often over powered by the fear of making an unforgettable mistake –which was, of course, only true in the sinews of my imagination. The contours of my face spelt fear. I often say in jest, that Prof. Kumado must have seen my arteries erupting in my pounding chest and decided to spare me a heart attack. He left me pretty much alone!

Entry into real life. Work demanded that I couldn’t be a phantom anymore. I had to resurrect myself. Sitting behind my desk, in my space was my solace and hiding place. That was where I had the nerve to set the world aright. The real challenge was coming out of my cocoon into unfamiliar waters. To perform before my unavoidable audiences, I modelled another Isabel mentally. She was extroverted and interesting. I commandeered her to perform when I had an uncomfortable or challenging moment. Whilst the pats on the back for my performances excited me, being the classic introvert, it left me worse for wear. It was draining. So I resisted being under the spotlight. I just wanted to be in my space, with at best, only a lamp shaded glow.

Change came with a tortoise run, and over the years, my face ached a little less with each performance. But liberation will come! No thunder, no lightning- just a solemn realization on an average day.

We all have God-given giftings –intelligence, diligence, empathy, courage, grit, self-confidence, charisma – countless. Each of us with a unique gift designed for purpose. These giftings are sharpened by other gifts of experience, challenge, success, pain and failure. If these don’t eclipse you, then you must reflect its light. These refined giftings are not yours to “hide under a bushel”, they are entrusted to you to share with the world! In shining, we perform a God-given duty, a duty which enjoins us not to shrink ourselves, our ability and our gifts, a duty which should fill us with joy and excitement. This freed me and possessed me with a new willingness to step into the light wherever God places me, and to enjoy the journey. Shining is not about attention, it’s not about applause, it’s not about reward. It’s about reflecting a light on the gifts of God.

But this awakening did not suddenly anoint me with a new boldness. I still wrestle with the compulsion to flee from moments that bring me under the spotlight. So expect to still be riddled with fear and self-doubt, sometimes. But think of your racing heart and the butterflies fluttering in your stomach, as the adrenalin you need to do something audacious, not your prompt to bolt. Start with a twinkle, twinkle!

And then, there is the risk of people wondering which creek you are suddenly crawling from, especially when you have been in the shadows for so long, or when your spectators are still reeling from laughter from your not so glamorous beginnings, and embarrassing moments. Then, there is the temptation to think that there are bigger stars and brighter lights that obscure yours. That shining is the preserve of others, certainly not YOU. But it is not about how well you shine against others. Your gifting is as distinctive as you are. You have a light only you can reflect. So you too, qualify to be in the galaxy.

There is so much you know within yourself, you can share with the world. But you remain a closet entertainer. You do a powerful rendition of your act before the image of yourself in the mirror, you shout it out in the shower, and you are reminded of it when someone else shines a light that is reminiscent of yours! And yet, you scamper away from the light!

I know it may not always be about fear, as it was for me, it may be that you are expecting to be discovered, it may be because you are still on your sojourn to stardom, or it may be that you are just happy with the way things are! But to shine is to respond to a calling higher than ourselves, our limitations and our vulnerabilities.

Each moment is gone with the wind! I spent too many years avoiding the light. I could have lit the path for many more people if I had woken up to that duty earlier. I am grateful I still have some time!

The galaxy is waiting to admit more stars!

So Shine, my friend, take a leaf from my book- Never A Shrinking Violet!

Shine, Shine, Shine as brightly as the stars!

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Liya B Tembo
Liya B Tembo

Love the piece for its truth and how its so relatable!


Frank Akowuah
Frank Akowuah

You have dealt with this in a very relatable and inspiring manner. Thanks


Thank you for this piece.


Wow. This is soo inspiring. Thank you for sharing.


Ekua Ortsin
Ekua Ortsin

This is the most inspiring piece I've read all year and it means the world to me!! Thank you so much!

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