I share this advice with you now, knowing how deeply it has sank into my ever present fear, softening it over time ever so slightly. I share with you, in hopes that you too, might carry it around like a worry stone, and over time, feel the sharp edges of your own fear and doubt begin to wear away a bit as well. I share it so that we, humanity, can collectively move forward DESPITE fear and pursue and enjoy whatever personal or creative project we see on the horizon.
As a child, I felt so much fear and let it stop me from doing things I loved. Terrified of bees, I would abandon my rollerblades or bicycle if I heard one buzzing around my face. I would run indoors and spend the rest of the afternoon inside. I hated shots, the dentist, swallowing medicine, and spent so much time in advance anticipating the pain, the fear, the resistance. I was afraid to wear a new pink hat to school, not because I didn't love it, but because I was fearful of what the other kids would say. I was afraid to leave my hometown for college--what if it was too hard to be away from home?
Even in the midst of these fearful years, I did have courage in small ways--mostly creative courage. When I was in eighth grade, I marched into the chorus teacher's office despite not knowing her at all and not being a singer, and asked if I could sing "Think of Me" from Phantom of the Opera for her. I wanted to pursue music and theatre so badly and was looking for permission to go for it. Bless that teacher for having the kindness to tell an out of tune, untrained thirteen year old that yes, she could sing and she should definitely join the chorus if she wanted to. This was one of the first times in my life that I saw that doing something really scary could lead to new experiences that I eventually couldn't imagine living without. It was enough for me to try again.
I started auditioning for choir, for the school musical, and eventually helped co-found a spring play with my best friend in high school. Little by little, performance gave me a way to practice being brave. Not fearless, but someone who went for it in spite of the gnawing fear inside her.
I was scared half to death when I marched into the Dean of the Theatre Department's office at college and switched my major to Theatre Performance a year and a half into an Elementary Education program.
I was scared half to death when I graduated and realized that New York City was not going to come to me and make me a success--I had to forge my own path by myself.
I was scared half to death when I moved to a small city in Virginia in my twenties and put up fliers for anyone who was interested in co-founding a small all female theatre company with me.
I was scared half to death when a wonderful young woman answered my call for help.
I was scared half to death when I decided to move to Boston to attend Emerson College. I had only ridden a subway a handful of times in my life and was afraid of my own shadow.
I was scared half to death when I accepted my current job in the arts, because I've never had a day job in my field before and I wasn't sure what it would do to the balance of my personal/work/artistic life.
Instead of letting that fear control you and banish you back to your safe corner of the world, why not try using that fear as a clue? What if fear is a compass, trying to tell you where you should go next? Maybe fear is our own way of realizing that we've come upon a project, an opportunity, a chance that deserves our attention. Now, whenever I think of a vacation I want to take, a play I want to write, or a new hobby I want to try, I try to pay attention. With the exception of foolishly putting myself in physical danger, I now see fear as an invitation to try something new, something I really want to do. And when we really go for something that we've always wanted to try, there's no predicting the ripple effects of a choice like that. We might evolve into a new version of ourselves, glimpse a clearer vision of what our life could be. Anything could be waiting for us.
Think of a time when you felt afraid to move to a new city or put yourself out there at a job interview. Remember the time you did karaoke or got that really short haircut that you didn't know you would like. You did all these things (I did all these things) and although fear was there, everything turned out ok. You probably even felt joy because you did them. You've done these brave things before and you can do them again.
Do you really want to write a novel? Are you terrified? The fear is a great sign--you should do it. Are you interested in learning how to play the violin? Afraid of being terrible at it? Go for it. Whatever it is that keeps nagging at you to try, consider trying it. Life is so temporary. The next time you feel half scared to death at the thought of something, experiment with what might happen if you walked right towards it and let yourself dive in?