Do That Thing That Scares You (Here's How)
I was trembling.
My mouth was completely dry. My armpits were soaked. I felt sick.
Waves of regret and anxiety were taking over my thoughts. Why the fuck was I doing this? It was 8:40 pm. 20 minutes until I had to be on stage. I was not ready.
This was my first ever performance on any stage, ever. I signed up for an improv comedy class just three months before. I told myself it'd be a fun way to kill my Sunday's.
The truth is: I wanted to perform.
Whether I admitted it or not, this was me finally leaning into that. Being here onstage was so important to me. I wasn't fully aware of it at the time, but somehow I knew - this is where I was supposed to be.
This is also why I was so afraid.
Prior to this moment, I was always too afraid. I wouldn't audition for the school plays. I thought it was stupid to think it was something I could do.
And now, here I was. Twenty minutes away from my first show. Sure, it was a student performance in front of mostly friends and family, but it was a show nonetheless.
Backstage, I breezed through our warmup exercises, hopped on my toes and tried to shake my jitters out through my fingers. I tried to hide my fear through smiling and making stupid jokes with my teammates. I was terrified.
The lights went out, we were introduced, and our instructor asked for a suggestion from the audience: a funny sounding accent. Someone blurted out "Irish", and before I knew it, I was walking towards the middle of the stage. The lights were bright. I could see that the small theatre was full, probably 200 people or so, but it was too bright to see any faces.
My palms were soaked and my mouth was dry. The music director played a little note, which felt cool. I felt legit.
I sat down, turned to my scene partner, and started babbling words in an accent that sounded more like Borat than Irish. But I was doing it. Holy fuck, I was performing.
The more I babbled, the less my mouth dried. I felt more comfortable. I listened to my scene partner. I babbled something back. Eventually, I said something and the entire theatre laughed. At that moment, I was the funniest person in the world. Nobody could tell me otherwise.
Four scenes later and forty minutes later (including a musical scene where I freestyle rapped about a turkey named Pablo that ate my iPhone), I was bowing on stage to applause and laughter.
After 26 years of shying away from it, I could finally call myself a performer.
Fear is silly. It equips us with lies that tell us we're not good enough. It prevents us from doing the things that we really want to do. It prevents us from being who we really want to be.
Everybody feels fear. The truth is, it never really goes away. You will always be afraid of things. And no matter how many times you do the things you're afraid of, you might still always be afraid.
But the important thing is not allowing fear to control you. It's about making a decision to do it anyways. To observe the fear, acknowledge it and then do it anyway.
It's the "do it anyway" part that's hard. This is where most people struggle. It's where I've struggled. Little by little, I'm starting to get better.
things to tell yourself before doing something that terrifies you:
1. you won't die
Unless your dream is to go shark riding or to try and hold your breathe for an hour - you're likely not in danger. Realize that most of the things you are afraid of are worst case scenarios that either won't actually happen or are super fixable. My worst case scenario on stage was that I pooped myself and everyone threw tomatoes at me. The chances of that happening were super slim, and even if they did happen, it's nothing a new pair of underwear and a few years of therapy wouldn't fix. The tradeoff was the chance of me having a great performance and deciding to do it for the rest of my life. Well worth it.
2. 20 seconds of courage can change your life
That's it. Just 20 seconds. 20 seconds of insane, incredible courage. Most people can do almost anything for 20 seconds. I've been getting laser treatment on a tattoo on my chest to remove it. It's fucking horribly painful. It makes me scream like a wounded banshee and it smells like fried bacon. But I remind myself every time before I go in: it's less than 30 seconds of torture. That's it. Thirty seconds of torture to remove a poor decision as an 18 year old. So that's it. Take a deep breath and give yourself 20 seconds of incredible courage. It won't last forever.
3. Other people are doing it right now. at this moment.
Thousands of people, all over the world, are doing the thing that scares them. Right now. At this moment. They're singing on stage for the first time. They're proposing. They're giving birth, going off to war, fighting cancer, starting their first day of school. They're feeling that anxiety in their stomach, pushing out their bubbly nervous poops (maybe this one is just me), and doing it anyway. Every single person feels fear. Nobody is anymore human than you are. The only difference is they're making the choice to proceed anyways.
Feel the fear, process it, and do it anyway. The life you want is depending on it.