“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” – Nelson Mandela
With the passing of Nelson Mandela, we say goodbye to one of our greatest leaders, visionaries, and heroes. Steve and I had the privilege to meet President Mandela a few years ago, and I have long admired his courage, persistence, and fearless spirit. With his passing at age 95, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on a man who so embodied the spirit of what it means to be fearless and who has influenced me personally.
President Mandela personifies the fearless values we talk about so frequently: taking risks, being bold, and letting urgency conquer fear. Perhaps most importantly, President Mandela pressed for a cause that he believed was right when most said the challenges he and his fellow activists faced were insurmountable. His selflessness, his perseverance, and his focus have been an inspiration for activists and changemakers around the world.
As a young man in Johannesburg, South Africa, President Mandela experienced firsthand the impact of apartheid—where racial segregation, unequal rights, and poverty among the black majority were the norm. As he fought for social justice he faced opponents that were internationally recognized, better funded, and backed by a standing police force. He was called a terrorist, a traitor, and a criminal by those within his country and watching from afar. And he was sentenced to life in prison in 1964 on charges of conspiracy to overthrow the government.
These kinds of challenges would likely stop most of us in our tracks, but President Mandela pressed on. On several occasions, the South African government offered his freedom on the condition that he abandon his activism. Each time, he refused. His tireless work sparked an international movement of individuals and eventually governments that lobbied for his release and for an end to apartheid. And, his release from prison was a historic moment—courage had triumphed over fear.
President Mandela did not stop his work at the end of apartheid. He then started what proved to be a nearly equally challenging task of governing, and of bringing a country together that had been ripped apart by the struggle for equal rights. He knew that his work was not done, and he knew that he needed to inspire the next generation of South Africans to continue to press for unity, for growth, and for equal opportunity. As President, he continued to take risks and bold actions, working with all parties to bring the country together–beginning at the outset of his presidency, inviting his former jailer to be a VIP guest at his inauguration.
I thank you, Nelson Mandela, for being an inspiration for all of us. We applaud you for being fearless in the face of so many obstacles, for learning from adversity rather than hiding from it, and for showing us that we all can lead movements that can change the world.