Follow Your Fear
I was five-ish. My older brothers were playing in the basement with the neighbor boys and I wanted to join. The game they were playing involved total and complete darkness. All the lights were out, the windows were covered, no flashlights were allowed, and I was afraid of the dark. Retrospectively, they probably devised this game as a way to keep me from intruding on their play without getting in trouble with mom (brilliant, really), but it didn’t work. In my own juvenile cost/benefit analysis (be eaten by the basement monsters/play awesome game with super cool older brothers) my final decision was that the risk of painful death was worth it. Much to my brother’s chagrin, I looked my fear right in the face, and walked towards it. Now I can’t remember the game we played, if it was fun, or if they even let me play. What I remember is recognizing that the only power the fear had over me was what I let it have. Pretty good for someone with all of their baby teeth.
When I was fifteen I made a last minute decision to join an after school theater program. Three days later I, against what I felt was my better judgement, auditioned for their spring musical. The audition required you to sing 60 seconds of any song in front of some of the nicest people you would ever meet in one of the most non threatening environments you could imagine (people CHEERED for you – at an audition! And the directors gave you candy at the end. Not so much in the real world, folks). Few are the times that I have ever been as scared as I was those ten seconds walking up the stairs and waiting for my accompaniment to begin, but I did it.
I sang a very poor rendition of “I Could Have Danced All Night” (Julie Andrews cringed somewhere with perfect diction) and mercifully don’t remember much else. I made chorus.
Fast forward 3 years to another audition. This time it was for an improv team my senior year of high school and, again, I was scared out of my mind, but I psyched myself up and did it. When all was said and done, I made the team, and we won nationals.
A similar story of jangling nerves and sweaty palms followed for my audition into ComedyCity at 18, my choice to move to Springfield for college, the decision to take my first class at The Skinny Improv (and then actually GO to that class), my move back to Kansas City as a “grown-up”, my audition for The Kansas City Improv Co, that whole getting married thing, and now our move to California.
The fear is always there from little things (“Oh – maybe I should have gotten the dressing on the side.”) to the big things (“Should we buy this house/take this job/have that hard conversation?”). The fear itself, however, isn’t a bad thing. No Hero’s Journey is moving because The Champion is not afraid to slay the dragon. It is moving because they slay the dragon through the fear.
FDR is famously quoted saying the “only thing we have to fear is fear itself”, but I don’t agree. We should not be afraid of being afraid. Fear is a gift. We are given fear as a means of protection. We are given fear as a measure to know what is important to us. We are given fear to remind us that we are alive and that at the end of the day we are the only thing holding ourselves back from the life we want.
If you aren’t scared of something – then you aren’t paying attention. Find what scares you, and follow it (That being said, I am not encouraging you to bungee jump without a cord. Use common sense now, folks). Don’t back down from the fear, don’t let it control you. Let it inspire you. Find your fear. Follow it. See where it leads you.
I have yet to be disappointed.