Category Archives: Fear of Futility

Fear of Futility

Have you ever feared that your efforts will be futile? fear of futility

Have you ever asked yourself: “I am but one person, what can I do?”

Yesterday I was watching “Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter” on video, it was an movie with drama, horror (yeah, I suppose that’s why its called the “Vampire Hunter”), love, and political struggle (liberation of the blacks), war (American Civil War) and history all rolled into one!!! In USA they call this a “mash-up” movie, in Singapore where I live we call this “Rojak”, a traditional fruit and vegetable salad.

I didn’t expect to be inspired by this “bubblegum” work of fiction. I expected it to be something to be enjoyed, spit out and not digested.

That was until I saw this scene, where Abraham (Lincoln) was in jail for saving his friend (A black American), William Johnson from a group of slave traders.

His wife-to-be Mary Todd bailed him out, and Abraham in his moments of doubt asked Mary:

“What if something was going on, something terrible. and you knew that there is no way on earth one man will be able to stop it, what do you do?”

Mary replied: “I wouldn’t back away from what’s right just because its hard, my father used to say plant your feet and stand firm, the only question is where to put your feet?”

That answer started Abraham on his political career, his quest to free the black from slavery, his term as one the greatest presidents of USA (At least according to the movie).

He started something that united the nation, impacted millions and millions of blacks across the generations and laid the foundation for USA to become the great country that it would become. It all started from one intention, one thought, one man.

Abraham probably was filled with doubts if his efforts were going to be futile, but once he knew where to plant his feet (his wish for a unified country and the liberation of the slaves), that reasonĀ  became greater than himself, greater than his doubts.

The statement by Mary left quite an impression on me, and reminded me of an incident that happened about 3 years ago. I was a part time trainer on public speaking then, being rather fresh, one of my fears are what: “What if no one likes my class? What if no one likes me?” I shared my thoughts with one of my senior trainers, and this is what he said. “Shaun, you are too focused on yourself. You focus on what the students think about “your” class, and what the students think about “you”. However in training, its not about you, you are just a medium, a conduit for the message, the information to get across to the students, the participants.

It was February 2010 I was called upon to train one of the most challenging classes I had ever had, i was training a class of high school students, some were playing basketball in the class, some were walking around in the class, some were chatting in class. It took a lot from me to exert control and bring the class to order, at the end of the class, I was spent. The worst thing was this: I felt like a failure as I failed to bring the message across.

At the end of the 2 and a half hour class, I asked the class monitor, ShaoYi to pass me the attendance list, I thanked her, and I asked her what are her thoughts about public speaking. She said: “I think its a relevant skill based on what heard from you today. Its a shame that I missed the first class though. Can you brief me on what you taught the class on the first day?”

I was spent but seeing an eager student energized me, so I spent about 45 minutes coaching ShaoYi. At the end of the class, ShaoYi: “Thank you, Mr Shaun. I feel more confident about passing the assessment next week.”

I replied: “My pleasure, this is my number if you need to any further clarification please call, bye bye!”

At the after class debrief, my lead trainer, Coen asked me: “How did it go?” I replied:” Great, at least I am certain that one student got “it”!”

My friends, that day I learnt one lesson: Even if I was speaking to a huge crowd, as long as one person benefited from the service that I provided, it means my efforts are not futile, it means I am successful.

Fast forward 2 years and 10 months to December 2012, I received a surprise text from ShaoYi, :”Hi Mr Shaun, this is ShaoYi, do you remember me? I am now a student leader at my school. Thanks for your coaching, I am now applying public speaking skills whenever I conduct students briefing!”

How would you feel if someone thanked you for something you did in the past because it has helped them, and is continuing to benefit them to this date?

For me, it was a “Wow” experience. Receiving the text from ShaoYi was one of the greatest highlights of 2012, one of the greatest highlights of my life.

I learnt another lesson that day:

As long as you are being of service, do not worry if what you do is futile or if what you do is insignificant, the rest will take care of itself!!!

The additional 45 minutes that I gave out of wanting to be of service to my student, has not only impacted the life of ShaoYi, but has also indirectly impacted the life of the students that ShaoYi is leading!!!

Ladies and gentlemen, there are times when we fear that we do is futile, there are times when we wonder if the effort of one person truly matters in the grand scheme of things. Truth be told its absolutely alright to feel that way, because we are just human. Just remember that the REASON why we are doing what we doing, remember that the REASON is bigger than ourselves, and that its definitely greater than our doubts. Remember that as long as we are of service to ourselves and others, the rest will take care of itself!!!


Your fellow human being:)