In order to be successful, you have to be willing to dive into deep, dark places. The places inside of you that you are most afraid to go and that you may not even want to believe exist. Many of us battle with being too proud to admit that fear is controlling our lives. What I have learned is that those deep, dark places are where the true self lies.

I looked at myself— this big, tough football player—and realized how much my fears controlled me. Admitting this was the first step to transforming my life for the better.

One of the biggest fears I had was death. Death is such a strange thing to consider as a living person because there are so many questions that come from it. What will happen next? Will I be remembered? Did my life really matter on this earth amongst the billions of people that lived or will continue to live?  I wanted to rid myself of these fearful thoughts for good. So one day I did an exercise that changed my life. I wrote a letter to my loved ones about what life has taught me during my darkest times.

Here is that letter:

If I were to die tonight, the one thing I want to leave behind is a smile. I would smile toward my friends, family, loved ones and just those who have ever deposited into me. I’m sitting here writing this right now with that very smile on my face. I’m smiling because I am enjoying memories of each of you, how we touched each other throughout our lives. I must admit that writing this letter still alive and in good health, brings about very strong emotions. I have a slight sense of fear knowing that one day our bodies will turn back to dust, but I am comforted in knowing that our relationship surpasses nature, time, and all things of this physical world. I am hopeful this letter will mark the beginning of true freedom, for the fear of death grips us all in one-way or another.

I believe people fear death mostly because it’s the great unknown. I fear death not because I do not know what’s next but because on the way to making my mark on this world, I always wished I could have spent more time with those I loved the most. My struggle comes from necessity, not by choice. For if you’ve known me my whole life, you could say I’ve been burdened to become “great” before I was talented at pretty much everything that I tried (except singing and dancing). I’ve had to live my life differently than how I’ve wanted to sometimes because of my talents. A part of me liked being Deunta the superstar athlete with access to nicer things but I was often just satisfied being that guy from Jacksonville, NC. The battle between wanting to be great and true to myself was constant as I climbed my way to the top.

One thing I have discovered during the last few years of my life is that being lost is a necessary part of the journey for those destined for greatness. I can now see just how much my depression and identity crisis during those dark times led to so much love, peace, and self-awareness in my life. This understanding took years. I compare it to how bodybuilders have to first tear down their muscles before they can build them up and become physically strong. I know for myself at the end of most workouts I can hardly lift a thing, but after the soreness fades away I feel energized and ultimately stronger. That’s why I’m so fortunate that before the darkness led to alcoholism and depression; I found my inner-strength.

I hope your understanding of this letter is in its truest form and my choice of words leads you to this one thought; “Deunta is truly free”. I want to tell my loved ones, family, friends, and kind strangers this now, so that I can release myself from the heavy chains of fear. To any person who was ever brave enough to label me a friend, thank you for your courage. The faith in you that allowed you to call me friend strengthened me when I was most weak. If you ever prayed for me or wished me well, believe it or not, I felt that energy lift me up. To my truest friends, I thank you for seeing me as I am and still loving me. The fears that have taken over my life are no more thanks to you, thanks to God, and thanks to realizing the power that lies within.

This letter is just a snapshot of how I overcame obstacles and triumphed over my fears. To learn more about my triumphant testimony read my new book The Breaking Point.

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