Kick Fear to the Curb
I’ve loved musical theatre since I was a little kid. I didn’t grow up going to shows on Broadway, or off-Broadway… or even off-off-Broadway. When I was probably around six or seven, I saw the 1982 film rendition of Annie for the first time and proceeded to wear the crap out of that VHS tape. I was frequently cast in the lead roles of our church Christmas pageants, probably because I was one of the only boys willing to sing. One year, my family went to see the local high school’s performance of Into the Woods, and I was mesmerized. We also left at intermission because we thought the show was over, but that’s a different story… In middle school, I vividly remember the assembly in which the cast from the neighboring high school’s current play performed a few scenes to encourage us pre-teens to come see the show and consider theatre when we got to high school. Those super cool high schoolers (who seemed way, way, way older than me at the time) held my attention in ways my teachers could only dream of—and I was a teacher’s pet!
So, it probably goes without saying that when I finally reached high school, I was rip-roaring ready to go and auditioned in the theatre department as soon as I could. Well, you know what they say about assumptions, right? Because that’s not what happened.
In addition to being a lover of theatre, entertaining, and performing, I was also an incredibly introverted and almost painfully shy kid. Singing in front of church was one thing. Putting myself out there to audition in front of my school peers who I had to face every single day was something else entirely. It’s silly, I know. After all, high schoolers are notorious for their kind, encouraging, and empathetic natures, right? My classmates would never have laughed at or made fun of or ruthlessly teased me if I made a mistake or made a fool of myself. The funny thing is, they probably really wouldn’t have, but try convincing your super self-conscious adolescent self of that kind of logic.
At the end of the day, both my freshman and sophomore years of high school found me sitting in the audience at the annual musical, watching my friends have a ball and kicking myself for not having the courage to join them. When junior year came around and it was announced that the musical would be a show wrapped up in the music of Elvis entitled All Shook Up, I knew that was the year. No more running. No more hiding. No more guilt after-the-fact. It was time to stop allowing fear to steer me away from my dreams.
There is plenty of fertile ground for fear to sow its treacherous seeds within creative industries. Being in community with other creative individuals, I know I’m not alone when it comes to trying to uproot them before they get a stranglehold. So often, those pesky little sprouts pop up as dreaded “what ifs”—not to be confused with Marvel’s What If…? storylines. Those are awesome! I’m talking about these “what ifs”: What if I’m not good enough? What if I’m wasting my time? What if I make a fool of myself? What if the hokey pokey really is what it’s all about? What if I fail?
Much of my pre-adult life was defined by the “what ifs.” They’re what kept me in my shell and prevented me from being bold. They’re what convinced me that who I am wasn’t good enough for the world around me, and that it was better if I kept to myself.
What if? Two little words that pack a punch. They’re more effective at stalling dreams before they even start than they have any right to be. And it’s all because they play off the unknown. As humans, we don’t typically like the unknown. It’s scary and mysterious. Anything could be in there. Sure, it could be something amazing, but it could also be clowns—and a 2016 poll shows that 42% of Americans are more afraid of clowns than terrorism, economic collapse, climate change, and even death! So, this is serious. The point is: the unknown is something wildly outside of our control and humans love to be in control. In fact, certain scientific evidence points to a need for control being a biological imperative for survival. If that’s the case, it’s no wonder the “what ifs” have such a powerful influence over our lives.
What’s the best way to wrest control away from the “what ifs” and the doors they open to the great unknown? While there are certainly countless strategies for combating fear, one of the best first steps (in my humble opinion) is to take stock of the fear itself. To the best of your ability, take a step back from whatever fearful situation you find yourself in and examine the components of what’s going on. Some helpful steps include: paying attention to how you feel, recognizing the fear for what it is and owning it, taking a deep breath, and “putting the fear on trial”—talk yourself through your fearful thoughts and then imagine an empowering response.
Another helpful way to overcome the fear that’s holding you back is to eliminate as much of the unknown from the equation as possible. How do you do that? Practice. Something is only mysterious and unknown insofar as you don’t know what to expect from it. Start with some basic mindfulness practices. Try visualizing what it would look like for you to succeed. From there, give whatever it is you want to do a try, even in part. Once you do, it begins to take away some of the unknown’s power and gives you more solid ground to stand on. As you become more familiar with your pursuit through practice and preparation, confidence is a natural byproduct. A word of caution, though. Practice can easily become a substitute for fear that can just as easily prevent you from achieving your dreams. Eve Rodsky, author of Find Your Unicorn Space, wisely says, “It’s important not to get stuck in the preparation. Do your readiness prep work, and then set yourself up for your next step forward.” Take the time you need to practice and become more comfortable, but don’t get stuck there!
Take the Leap
When it comes down to it, there’s rarely, if ever, a 100% guarantee that you’ll achieve your dream exactly the way you want to. Truthfully, it’s far more likely that even if you do face your fear you’ll encounter new hurdles, new unknowns, and new fears. But that’s life. If you don’t want to go through yours with a burden of regret weighing you down, there will always be moments where you simply have to take a risk and dive in. Leslie Blodgett, founder of bareMinerals and author of Pretty Good Advice, says, “If you wait for the fear to go away, the opportunity will go away, too.” This isn’t to say that it’s ever too late to start something new, but it is a reality check that helps us not waste our time with unrealistic expectations. The sooner we can kick our fear to the curb and move on, the sooner we can start living our best lives.
Dare to Suck
Artists know better than anyone what it takes push through the “what ifs,” put everything on the line, and wait with bated breath for the world to respond. We can’t ensure a positive reaction, but if we let that prevent us from trying in the first place, we end up with no reaction at all. As further inspiration to overcome fear, Eve Rodsky encourages a “dare to suck” mindset. When you finally gather the courage to try whatever it is you’ve been dreaming of, you might crash and burn. You might find out that that thing really isn’t what you hoped it would be and it just isn’t for you. You also might find that you’ve discovered your life’s calling. Either way, you’ve conquered that unknown.
In hindsight, I recognize I shifted toward a “dare to suck” mindset my junior year of high school. I practiced my butt off for that musical audition—which made the dancing portion a bit challenging—and performed in front of my peers knowing I might botch the whole thing. In spite of that (and a few missed song lyrics), I still remember the director’s words when I finished: “Where have you been?” There have been few times in my life before or since that moment that I have felt so affirmed. I didn’t land the lead role I was hoping for—dream big, right?—but I did get to perform a short solo and was cast as a featured dancer. I still don’t know how that happened. When opening night rolled around, I remember looking out into the audience members and being profoundly grateful I wasn’t among them.
What are the biggest fears you grapple with in your creative endeavors? What methods of kicking that fear to the curb have been effective for you? Whatever dreams your fear may be keeping you from right now, I sincerely hope you’re able to find your “dare to suck” mindset and do yourself the favor of discovering what that future might hold. Who knows? It might just be your next great adventure. And you are definitely worth finding that out.
Until next time, friends, keep telling stories!
Voiceover Artist | Storyteller
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