I’ve always been more of a stick versus carrot person.
Some of this is biological and some of it is because when I was a girl, I had some very scary teachers in my life who were not very nice to me, repeatedly, over a period of time.
Over the years, I’ve been fortunate enough to study and work with some great teachers and coaches, folks who had my back and really wanted me to succeed. But, unfortunately, I’ve also had some experiences with teachers that left me with feelings of self-doubt and fear that have had long lasting effects.
I remember one teacher who told me that no one cared what I felt, no one cared whether I was sad or worried or tired, whether I was feeling sick or well, whether my dog had died or whether a family member was ill. They told me that the only thing that mattered was how well I performed on stage because, when people bought a ticket to come hear me play, they only cared about how perfect I was. I had to be consistently perfect, no matter what because no one cared anything about who I actually was or what I actually felt.
I was eleven years old.
As a result, I’m always looking over my shoulder, expecting to be yelled at, made fun of, and rejected. I’m also someone who is very attached to what other people think of me, something that I think the classical music culture exacerbates, where everyone is running themselves into the ground, oh oh pick me, pick me, all of us learning the same pieces to win the same auditions and competitions and jobs, over and over and over again.
This is how I learned to trust fear more than joy, because fear kept me safe from criticism. I learned that fear made me practice and fear kept me from making mistakes.
Why Fear Feels Comfortable…
Fear keeps us from failing. Fear keeps us from taking risks. And yes, fear can keep us safe. After all, if you never leave your house, you might feel super safe: you can order anything you need–groceries, toilet paper, books, movies–and have them delivered to your doorstep. If I never leave my house, I’m safe from cars and planes and trains and, most dangerous of all, people. Everything is controlled, everything’s safe.
But fear also keeps us small and mediocre and miserable. We might feel safe because we can stay home and never take any risks, but this is just an illusion of safety. Because sure, you’re safe, alone in your house, never doing anything that might invite failure, ridicule, and rejection. But then again, a tornado could rip the roof off, or you could fall in the bathroom and crack your head open.
Nothing is safe. We’re never safe. But I get it. I like to feel safe, too….
Recently, someone asked me: what if the problem isn’t that you’re not good enough? What if the problem is that this is not a winnable game?
Lately, I’ve been asking myself: What would you do if you weren’t afraid?
I get it though: with the amount of uncertainty in the world right now, it’s hard not to be afraid.
It makes sense to be afraid.
But the thing is, if I weren’t afraid:
- I’d do more of what I wanted instead of what I *should* do.
- I wouldn’t be afraid of criticism.
- I’d stop making choices that are guided by what other people think of me.
- I’d wear comfy pants to a fancy restaurant.
- I’d stop apologizing so much.
- I’d take more risks and trust that things will work out.
- I’d stop being a people pleaser.
- I’d have my dessert first.
- I’d be more honest.
This question feels kind of a like a “North Star.” It provides me a lot of clarity and gets me to a place of calmness and action, pretty quickly. So, I asked some people I love and trust to tell me what they’d do if they weren’t afraid.
This is what they said:
- I actually think my deepest fears, when under control, may make me a better person and artist.
- I’d be less complacent.
- I’d be less afraid of hurting other people which drives me to be careful in my relationships and my words.
- I’d probably walk around the world with less stress and more swing in my hips, keys jangling casually in my pocket or the bottom of my bag instead of clutched in my fist.
- I’d be louder about who I am and what I want.
- If I wasn’t afraid, my posture would improve, perhaps. My breathing, too.
- Without fear, maybe I’d be able to think about mortality?
- I think my answer would be different day by day. Today the answer would simply be to create, without the fear of not finishing or not knowing what I’m doing or just plain being bad at it.
- I’d probably be more proactive in seeking mental health help.
- I’d quit my job.
- I’d take off and travel for a few months, with no agenda or plan, and just see what happened.
- I have a love/hate relationship with the stability of “normal life” and I dream about just taking off on adventures from time to time.
- This question threw me for a loop — I had immediate answers and I’m afraid to write them down
What about you? What would *you* do if you were less afraid – in life, on stage, or when you’re trying to create? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below and maybe we can share ideas on how to feel less fear and develop our courage, together.