One thing I know about fear is that when I let it stop me, it has a lasting impact. I remember the times I let fear hold me back. They are the fuel that propels me. Like when I was in the 12th grade and Mrs. B., my high school art teacher, felt she had taught me all she could about painting and figure drawing. She was passionate about supporting my creativity and suggested I sign up for a class at Syracuse University to learn how to draw live models. On the first day of class there was a model sitting in the middle of a circle. We sat around her holding our wooden easels covered with heavy sheets of blank white paper, sticks of charcoal in our ready hands. There was no teacher. No instructions. I froze. I had no idea where to start.
I turned to the young woman sitting next to me, "What do I do?" I asked. She pulled her board away from me and hissed, "Do your own work!" I was stunned. I don't even remember what happened next. I'm pretty sure that was my last figure drawing class. When I graduated high school later that year I majored in psychology. I stopped drawing. Every time I think of that story and how afraid I was to do it wrong, to make a mistake, I feel such regret. This is my pledge to myself: to never again let the fear of not being good enough stop me from doing what I love.
Three Rules for doing what scares you:
1. It has to be scary to YOU. It doesn't matter if no one else on the planet thinks it's scary. For it to be your life-changing experience, you need to feel that butterfly-in-your-stomach feeling, that hesitation before leaping. Because once you make that leap, it’s incredibly freeing - I did something I was scared of, I pushed my edges, I faced fear head on and did it anyway. And, oh yeah, I didn’t die!
2. Once you commit to jump off the cliff, you need to jump! No hedging. Embrace the experience fully. You can't embark on this scary thing and drag your feet the whole time, whining. Either you do it or you don't. I was feeling anxious packing for the my trip into the Australian Outback to work with an Aboriginal Healer. I was almost in a panic before going to San Quentin prison. I was physically nauseous driving to the woods for a solo three-day vision quest. But once I arrived at my destination, I fully embraced the experience. I took all the setbacks in stride, I didn't use them as an opportunity to say “See, I knew this was a bad idea, I should never have even done this in the first place!” Every setback on the journey is part of the learning experience.
3. Be willing to be imperfect. Doing what scares you doesn’t mean doing it perfectly right out of the gate. It means experimenting, being willing to be a beginner and make mistakes and actually learn something. It means being more committed to your own growth than feeling comfortable. And it takes lots of practice. The other day my niece showed me her violin and I said, “Ugh, I failed violin.” “Shut up,” she said. (She’s 9). “You just didn’t try hard enough.” She’s right. When I was learning violin, I just wanted to play and sound amazing. When I studied piano I didn’t want to practice scales, I wanted to play Jazz riffs. When I took gymnastics I wanted to be Nadia Comaneci. I didn’t want to have to spend years learning how to do these things. But that’s what it takes to be good – practicing, experimenting, trying things out, and being really bad before you can be good.
What fears are holding you back? Where do you let your fear of not being good enough stop you from starting?