All Articles Leadership Inspiration Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on not giving up in dark times

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on not giving up in dark times

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. struggled with fear as he worked for civil rights, but found a way to dispel that fear that holds lessons for all of us, Joel Garfinkle writes.

3 min read


Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Getty Images

I was touched by a story that shows who Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. truly was. This story, which I read while in Atlanta after visiting Dr. King’s birthplace and the place he is buried, shows how he found the strength to continue even in the darkest of times.


Dr. King and his family began receiving threatening calls and letters just after the Montgomery bus protest. He realized that many of those threatening them were serious. “I felt myself faltering and growing in fear. It seemed all my fears had come down on me at once. I had reached the saturation point,” he writes in his book Stride Toward Freedom.

One night, he couldn’t sleep. He got up and began pacing around, his mind reeling with the threats that had been accosting his family. Exhausted, but with his mind still racing, he tried to come up with a way to bow out of the struggle without seeming like a coward. But instead, he bowed his head to pray.

“I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength, they too will falter,” he spoke to God. “I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I have come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”

In that moment, a powerful shift happened, quiet but profound. “At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced him,” Dr. King writes. “It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice, saying, ‘Stand up for righteousness, stand up for truth. God will be at your side forever.’ Almost at once my fears passed from me. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything. The outer situation remained the same, but God had given me inner calm.”

Buoyed by that acute sense of inner calm and certainty, Dr. King persevered in the struggle. This inner peace allowed him to focus on the goal of bringing about a better world.

Through this story, Dr. King sets a powerful example for the rest of us. In the hour of our greatest challenge, we can’t be fueled be fear. Our fear of what could happen has nothing to offer us. Instead, we need to hone in on what we want to create and how it will better the world around us. Strive to find that place of calm as you confront your greatest challenges, because it will allow you to hear that inner voice that guides you every step of the way.


Executive coach Joel Garfinkle provides executive coaching to help companies build a pipeline of leaders who can excel at the management level, and he is the author of 11 books, including “Executive Presence: Step Into Your Power, Convey Confidence, & Lead With Conviction.” Subscribe to his Fulfillment at Work Newsletter or view his video library of more than 200 easily actionable, inspirational, two-minute video clips by subscribing to his YouTube channel.

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


Subscribe to SmartBrief’s FREE email newsletter on leadership. It’s among SmartBrief’s more than 250 industry-focused newsletters.