I spent the first thirty-some years of my life alternating between enthusiastically avoiding things that scared me and not recognizing the stuff I should be afraid of.
Can you identify which camp these fine examples belong to?
- At the age of twelve, walking to the mall, multiple times per week, where a girl had been murdered as she headed to her car after shopping.
- Not standing up to my middle-school bully.
- Meeting a guy I’d only talked to on the phone for a few weeks.
- At a hotel.
- In another city.
- Two hours from my home.
- With the “blessing” of my parents, friends and all-female counseling group. (Give me some credit—I was clearly not the only one wearing big-ass blinders.)
- Vowing to never again drive my brother’s 1979 five-speed Chevy Chevette (aka The Brown Turd) after stalling it about fifteen times trying to cross six lanes of traffic.
In the last ten to fifteen years, I’ve matured.
Now I mostly fear the shit in my mind (and our 2003 Pontiac Vibe dying—we really can’t afford a car payment now).
In my defense, some of the things I worried about could have happened, like losing our house after my husband got laid off.
The rest of it? As my first blog post said, “I’ve got 99 problems and 86 of them are completely made up scenarios in my head that I’m stressing about for absolutely no logical reason.”
In a recent blog post from my dear friend and author of Chasing Kate, Kelly Byrne talks about mourning the loss of the passion and desire she had for riding and racing motorcycles because she unknowingly fed the vile fear gremlin after midnight.
I felt her pain and resignation as I read it. She didn’t wake up one morning and decide, “Nope. Not gonna ride again.” The fear of doing so metastasized in her like a slow-growing cancer, one that she and those closest to her tried to excise, but ultimately weren’t able to.
In a weird way, the fear of doing what she loved may have ultimately saved her, given the danger of the sport and all the near-misses she’d walked away from (just check out some of the videos on her blog).
It got me thinking about the big stuff I’ve feared, although admittedly nowhere near as life-threatening as Kelly’s.
All through middle and high school, I ached to be in plays and musicals, to sing solos in our show choir, and join our debate team. But that desire couldn’t compete with my nearly non-existent self-esteem.
Inside, I wanted to be The Star.
But I wanted not to be ridiculed more.
So I played out this fantasy as best I could. I tried out for show choir in seventh grade, which was one of the most awkward and terrifying experiences of my life up to that point, followed only by trying out for our high school show choir.
I made it both times and was able to perform just fine. There was enough of a ridicule-buffer in those large groups, but it was all I would allow myself to do. I was sure anything more would traumatize me.
Somehow in my senior year of high school I managed to round up my courage like a herd of cats and agreed to perform a duet with one of my show choir members/friends.
The night of the performance I hummed the lyrics to our song in my head while simultaneously performing all our other group numbers. Not an easy feat.
When it was finally our turn, I felt like puking and peeing at the same time. Luckily we had spotlights shining in our eyes, so I couldn’t see anyone in the audience. It wouldn’t have mattered because I sang the entire song with my eyes closed.
When we were done, I swore the applause was louder for us than for any of the other performers. Maybe it just seemed that way because there weren’t twenty other people up on stage with us to absorb the sound coming from the audience.
These are some of the comments I received afterward:
“I didn’t know you could sing like that!”
“I’ve sang with you in show choir for five years, and I’ve never heard your voice…it’s beautiful.”
“Why didn’t you do this before? You were awesome!”
That last one stung the most because I wondered the same thing. On stage that night I felt magical, confident, and joyous. I felt “other than.” I wanted to cloak myself in this new identity and never take it off.
It was the penultimate bittersweet moment.
But it still took me nearly fifteen years before I’d try it again.
The Presbyterian church I attended for a short time after our daughter was born had a robust art and music community. Over the course of the year, the fine arts department performed multiple pieces, and that year one of those was To Kill a Mockingbird. I’d read it in college and loved it.
Those feelings I had during my high school performance kept knocking at the inside of my skull saying, “Hello! Remember us? Yeah, we’d like an encore, please.”
Without thinking about it, I picked up a copy of the script, and a couple weeks later I marched into the Sunday school room and auditioned.
I don’t remember whose part I read, but I remember feeling like I sucked.
Either they were hard up for cast members or I wasn’t as bad as I’d thought because they offered me the part of Mrs. Dubose, the shriveled, racist morphine addict. Here’s one of her/my choice lines, just in case you aren’t familiar with this charming character:
“Your father’s no better than the n*****s and trash he works for!”
I was so type-cast.
We gave two performances. As with my duet in high school, I nearly lost all control of multiple bodily functions simultaneously, but I managed to get through my ten to fifteen lines.
And like my other brief time on stage fifteen years before, I felt like I’d been transplanted to a place that was equal parts exhilarating and exhausting. I wanted to lie down and sleep, and perform for everyone forever, all at the same time.
The greatest compliment came from my husband who’d acted in various plays and musicals throughout high school and college:
“I didn’t recognize you—there wasn’t a bit of you in her.”
So have you figured it out yet?
What’s the number one reason to do the things that scare the shit of out you?
Because you’ll regret it if you don’t.
Yes, I could have embarrassed the hell out of myself on either of those occasions. It may have affected me on a deep level for a long time.
But that nagging question, you know, that nasty little “what if.” It follows you around like an ankle-biting chihuahua, forever.
Sometimes its yapping isn’t as loud and its teeth aren’t so sharp. But there is no rabies shot or antibiotic that can cure the “what if” sickness once it infects your brain.
So get your vaccination and do the shit that scares you. It’s the only prophylactic you’ll ever need.
So what about you? What activities caught you trying to not crap your pants? What “what if” regrets do you have in your life…those things you wish you’d done? Which one would you consider trying now, or do you think it’s too late…and why?