I have been re-reading a selection of speeches over the past few weeks, understanding their subtexts far better now than when I first encountered them. One, in particular, stands out - President Franklin Roosevelt's first Inauguration speech 80 years ago.
With the words of his gifted aide Raymond Moley, he inspired a wounded, uncertain, distrustful and disillusioned nation with one single phrase: 'Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is...fear itself -- nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyses needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.'
I was reminded of that sentence when, over coffee the other day with a former colleague, she said it must be 'scary' changing tack and starting a consultancy when most 40-somethings have got one hand on their company pension. Personal uncertainty in a time of financial uncertainty does not make things any easier.
Except it does.
It has taken me this year to figure out that stability is what induces fear, not upheaval. Familiarity dulls the senses, unpredictability fires the synapses. Sitting still makes us scared to leap, taking the leap makes us question why we spent all that time sitting still.
So, no I told her, it isn't scary. It's liberating. It doesn't scare me to wonder whether next term's school fees will be paid - they're not in the bank account yet but, somehow, I know they will be. That search for money is not fuelled by fear but by something more powerful (and destructive). Self-confidence.
Unless, even for a brief moment, you step out from your comfort zone, you're never quite certain if it will suit you. I'm pretty sure I only now understand what Roosevelt meant. His message is that you can achieve anything if you're not afraid to fail but the subtext is, you need to put yourself in a position where failure is an option because that's what will make you (us) stronger, more confident, more able.
Embrace fear and it will inspire; avoid it and it will stymie.
In the past few months, from my own endeavours, I have sat with some of the City's most influential decision-makers, political gurus, media giants, popular literary figures and celebrities, I've written speeches, consulted on wildly differing projects, written more than I have in years (including a very-unfinished screenplay), found a digital world crying out for my skills, begun a business (as well as a start-up that will definitely make me at least a couple of billion in about 18 months) and presented ideas to packed boardrooms with fingers firmly crossed.
Not once - to my utter astonishment - was I afraid, or did I fear the prospect of failure. Or perhaps I was and did, it's just that I felt sure of myself. Fear - harnessed - became a source of positive energy.
I suspect I would have been petrified at the prospect of all those things 10 or 15 years ago. They say you discard fear in the hedonism of youth. I think you just hide it. Maturity teaches you how to use it.
Perhaps, in 1933, that's what Roosevelt saw in the developing nation he was about to lead.