I could hardly breathe. I considered turning tail and running. I could tell everyone I was sick. They would forgive me for normal body failure, right?
No. I knew I had to do this. I’d been rehearsing for weeks. A few friends previewed my show the day before. My entire community was here. I couldn’t let everyone down now, or myself.
I watched my husband introduce me, forcing my eyes to stay on him so they wouldn’t drift to the audience. If they had, I might have really been sick. When he said my name and opened an arm towards me, I put on my best smile and walked to the center of our makeshift stage. The house lights came down, and the two spotlights illuminated with a high-pitched squeal. Looking toward the audience, I was happy to realize all I could see were dark figures. Good. I needed that.
My one-woman show began. It was my first live performance of my life. Specifically, the story of my brother’s loss to suicide. I’ve now been doing these performances for over a year, all around the country. I host discussions afterwards with audience members about love, loss, grief, and healing. I spend two hours giving my entire heart, body, and soul to everyone there, creating an atmosphere for open, authentic connection.
It is truly the most magical thing I’ve ever done, and if I hadn’t performed that first night – if I had run away – my current life’s mission wouldn’t have developed. Confidence has come with time, practice, and repetition, but it certainly wasn’t there for the first performance. Or the second, or third, or forth. Which is to say: you don’t need to be confident to start pursuing your dreams.
Paralysis by analysis
We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect before we start something new.
I need this degree, that accolade, and this amount of money before I can follow my dreams.
This mindset seeks safety. It wants to be reassured that yours will be a fail-proof endeavor. It barters for safe passage to the other side. Once you get the degree, then you can write the book. But if we all waited until we thought we were “ready,” most projects, dreams, and passions wouldn’t see the light of day.
I’m a proponent of starting. Yes, you might not know what obstacles you’ll encounter. You might not know what skills you need to be successful. You might not even know where to start!
These uncertainties are a necessary part of your journey. You will learn. You will rise to the occasion. You will fight, connect, read, experiment, give everything you have to figure it out. Is it the easiest process? No. Is it the most rewarding? Yes. Because at the end of the day, you’re actively creating something that didn’t previously exist, and it’s purely, 100% you.
The “F” word. It’s got a bad wrap. A lot of us would agree that, if given the option, we'd avoid failure. It frightens us. And yet, if we were to investigate these fears (another “F” word!), what is it we actually fear? What others will think? Losing money? Losing time, reputation, opportunity? What about the fear of never having tried anything extraordinary?
Many entrepreneurs – really, any kind of professional or expert – will speak to the gift of failure. If it weren’t for failure, they might not have learned a lesson that was invaluable for a future endeavor. Or perhaps failure allowed them to stop one dream and pursue another, which turned out to be more successful and rewarding.
In 2016, I set a goal to fail 100 times. If I was to be encountering failure, why not go all in and fail as many times as possible? Over time, each failure felt less like a comment on how valuable I was, and more of a comment on how hard I was working. The number also came to represent how many times I had put my ideas into the world and someone saw them, even if it was for a brief, forgettable moment. My failures began to feel like successes.
It's hard for us to see the gift of failure when we’re in the middle of it. Feeling a project tank is gut wrenching. Despite putting forth our best effort, it didn’t result in the outcome for which we'd hoped. Still, given your fears, given the fact the project might fail, don’t you want to try it anyway? Wouldn’t you rather try and fail than never try at all? If so, it’s time for you to start.
Dreams and passions are precious things we keep close to our hearts. We’re afraid to reveal them; afraid of the judgments we might receive.
There’s a brilliant children’s book called What Do You Do With an Idea?. The story follows a young boy who has an idea (represented by an egg-like creature). At first he tries to get rid of it. When that doesn’t work, he befriends it, and discovers the idea allows him to see the world differently, and he couldn’t imagine going back to ordinary life.
When the people around him see his idea, they have a variety of reactions: curiosity, fear, disgust, boredom. The boy feels hurt, and again wants to leave his idea behind. Shortly thereafter, he finds he can’t live without his idea, and he can’t let their words hurt him.
It’s a beautiful story, and a simplistic way to illustrate what we as adults feel, too. Some people might disagree with you, even criticize your idea. It might hurt. But you need to remember: this idea found you. It’s counting on you, and you need to protect it and continue to befriend it, even as others don’t understand what you do.
Plenty of people, even some of my closets friends, don’t understand why I perform a story from my life and host discussions about difficult feelings. That’s okay. Either my offering isn’t for them, or they have yet to experience it first hand. For those who didn’t get it and did eventually attend a performance, their opinions changed.
You see the world differently than other people, which is a good thing, but it also means you might encounter confusion or derision. Stand by your differences, find those who support you, and keep nurturing your ideas.
Taking the first step
The first step is always the hardest. We’ve created stories about all the things that could go wrong, and as we approach our launch, those fears become all the more palpable.
Our fears about an event are often more frightening than the actual experience. I continued to be nauseous before other performances, but none compared to that first performance. Once I got one under my belt, even if I was nervous, at least I always knew I’d done it before, and it had worked out. These bolstering experiences, and sheer repetition, ease our nerves over time and build confidence.
Trick yourself, set a goal and tell someone about it, apply to present at a conference in four months, anything you need to do to take your first step. It’s okay if you don’t feel ready. It’s okay if you don’t feel confident. You don’t need to. All you need to do is know this idea of yours is valuable, and someone out there might benefit from it. You certainly have.
What would it look like if you took a chance today and started? Take that first step, whatever it might be, knowing your journey will be messy, imperfect, and you might just fail. The only thing I can promise you is this: by choosing to follow your dreams, no matter the outcome, you will be a changed person. When it gets hard, keep at it. Confidence comes with time, but you’ll never get there unless you leap into the unknown.
(Feel like you still need an extra boost? Read this next: 6 Morning Rituals to Build Lasting Confidence