What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

JESSE WILLIAMS is an activist, actor, entrepreneur, and former high school teacher. He plays Dr. Jackson Avery on ABC’s hit series Grey’s Anatomy and has appeared in films such as The Butler, The Cabin in the Woods, and Band Aid. He is the co-founder of the Ebroji company and Ebroji mobile app, a popular cultural language and GIF keyboard. He’s also a partner and board member of Scholly, a mobile app that has directly connected students to more than $70 million in unclaimed scholarships. He executive-produced the documentary Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement. Jesse co-hosts the sports and culture–themed podcast Open Run on Lebron James’ and Maverick Carter’s Uninterrupted network. He is founder of the production company farWord Inc. and the executive producer of “Question Bridge: Black Males,” a series of transmedia art installations. Jesse gained international attention for his 2016 BET Humanitarian Award acceptance speech.

What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are three books that have greatly influenced your life?

Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond: This text helped rid me of the nagging incompleteness in my understood connection between the successes and failings of ancient and modern civilizations. Power needs tools and circumstance. Neither need be earned.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole: At the time in my life that I cracked this book open, it brought me tremendous, dare I say, glee! It was f*cking funny, vivid, and adventurous. Sometimes that’s what we need.

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison: The characters’ dilemmas just rocked my world in high school. I bought a second copy, “just in case,” and I was so grateful for the classroom discussions throughout the rich layered poetic journey.

The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois: A seminal work in American and African-American literature. Du Bois, a brilliant writer and sociologist, introduced notions like “double-consciousness” and the “veil of race” while examining what it means to spend lifetimes primarily viewing ourselves through the eyes of other people, power, and cultures.

The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand: The protagonist’s audacious self- confidence and refusal to compromise his artistic vision—which was to say, himself—was a fascinating thing to survey.

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?
Transcendental Meditation is something I’d long heard about but only stepped into this year, and it’s transformed my ability to center my mind and recharge in short periods of time. The David Lynch Foundation has made it so digestible without any of the rigidity or easier-said-than-done elements that I expect many of us find intimidating about beginning a meditation practice.

Going to therapy has opened a portal into the how and why of my own thoughts and behaviors. I can see and act with a new level of honesty, which helps cut a path to clearer communication with myself and others. For me, these are among the more critical tools to personal freedom.

My therapist operates from a psychodynamic/psychoanalytic orientation. He utilizes a psychoanalytic approach in his clinical conceptualizations and considers his approach to be a little eccentric. Less “homework” and more getting to the root of the issue and, over time, reprocessing for a more “authentic-self” approach to one’s life.

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do? What questions do you ask yourself?
I tend to lose focus for one of two reasons: exhaustion or distraction. Or both. Sometimes I look to the cold for remedy: a walk in the crisp air, a cold drink, a shower. The shower doesn’t have to be cold; the ceremony itself is kind of a reset button. If it’s exhaustion, I’ll just take a nap or, more recently, meditate. If the problem isn’t exhaustion, I might just pick up whatever novel I’m reading and go off on that journey. Reading creative writing stimulates my creative thoughts. I get big ideas, I’m reminded of something I meant to act on—an incomplete task or story idea of my own.

My friend Adepero likes to ask, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” That’s a good one.

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