This is the question I ask my music students every single week!
I always ask them this same question towards the end of the lesson, when it comes to sharing what they have learnt with the rest of the class and someone hesitates or is nervous.
“What’s the worst that can happen?”
And the answer is usually a version of:
“IT WILL GO HORRIBLY WRONG AND I WONT BE ABLE TO DO IT RIGHT!”
And there we have it, the dreaded “DUM DUM DUM” moment – our FEAR OF FAILURE!
A feeling I know all too well – BIG TIME! As an actor and someone in a creative and often extremely vulnerable and exposing industry, I put myself in a rather awkward spot some might say. But, I wasn’t always so held back by my fears, in fact I used to get a weird kick out of pushing myself out of my comfort zone and always found my way out the other side better off, if not, triumphant. It was the fine balance between adrenaline and testosterone propelling me forward instead of fleeing to my fort.
But over the years and some very specific life events thrown into the mix, the balance shifted, something went out of whack and I developed an almost unhealthy version of this fear – Atychiphobia!
Atychiphobia is just that, it is a phobia – of failing. Not just the average run of the mill, ego-inducing fear of looking like a twat if you messed up, but a debilitating fear of doing anything that might not have a perfect result, and as a consequence, not only avoiding situations where there was a possibility of looking less than perfect, but also pretty much sabotaging any chance of happiness – by not trying anything at all!
So one day in 2013 and after 4 years of sitting comfortably and safely in my fort, I decided enough was enough and something had to shift. I made a list of all my biggest fears and decided that one by one I was going to see what happened if I faced them!
FUN FACT: We are all born with 2 fears – DEATH and FALLING! Everything else is manufactured throughout our lives.
So I chose those 2 things first, you know just to ease me into it. Gently does it!
The first fear on the list, was my fear of heights and falling from said heights, to my death. A BUNGEE JUMP.
My friend was going to do a local bungee jump and I was going along to support her. She had been talking about it for weeks and how it was ‘A Leap of Faith’ and how it changed everything for her when she had done it the previous year.
To paint a picture (and my darling dad will testify to this), I won’t even climb a ladder to the loft without spinning out and saying my last goodbyes, so there was NO WAY I was going to do it, I would just go and watch, feel a little bit sick at the thought of my friend diving off a crane, plummeting toward the earth at an unnatural speed and then go home safe in the knowledge that I was sensible, grounded and alive and have a cup of tea.
But something weird happened the night before and I may or may not have been drunk, but I went a little bit mental and blacked out because I happened to have signed myself up online and paid the fee to do the jump and then told my friend I was coming with her. I still to this day don’t remember taking the decision, so cannot comment on how I consciously got the gumption to become all brave and what not.
The next morning, before I had even opened my eyes, the panic started to rise and the comprehension of what I had done, drove me into a paralysed, quivering and breathless mess. What have I done? I can’t believe I did that? I can’t do that. I can barely jump rope let alone jump off a crane – you’re an idiot, this is suicide, you have a child, he can’t be an orphan now… WHY for the love of… OK, no big deal, the money goes to charity anyway, I just won’t do the jump, it will be fine, my friend won’t mind and will understand, no one else knows about it, so let’s just forget it ever happened. Shhhhhhhhhh! And breathe. Except my friend, who was also a teacher at our school, had let slip to some of the parents coming to support and now half the school knew, the kids had made banners for fuck sake and got a crowd ready to come down to the park – (how early did these guys get up?) NEWS TRAVELS FAST!!!
SHIT, SHIT, SHIT!
I was going to bottle it and now the fear of failing was having a massive bust up in the car park with my fear of falling – What the actual fuck?
You know the ending to this one already, so I will skip the part where I ended up in a crane cage with the Mayor and had ITV news filming my every move and get to the point. (Although, these two points did have a very big part in my decision, heightening the experience beyond what anyone had ever expected – only me could this happen to!)
So I jumped – or rather I let go! The bungee jump guy in the cage with me, told me to count to 5, got me to put my hands out in front of me and then he let go of my harness in 1… 2… 3… I didn’t even hear him after that!
So there I was, plummeting toward the earth, eyes shut, breath held and ready to meet my fate, everything still and silent. I may have passed out momentarily, because the next thing I remember is my body being yanked from oblivion and flying back up into the sky. I HADN’T DIED! The rope had not snapped, my feet were still attached and I opened my eyes to the banner, my 3 year old and a news crew all screaming and cheering at me metres away as I bobbed lower and lower to 2 saviours who grabbed my arms and pulled me onto a mattress. I laid there for what seemed like an hour, heaving and sobbing and punching my fists in the air like I had just won the Olympic gold medal for staying alive!
Needless to say that my phobia of failing was still strong willed that day, which led me to conquer the biggest fear I thought I had.
I want to be able to tell you that I can now go up ladders like a boss and that I have done a sky dive since and am some adrenaline junkie dare devil – but that would be a big fat lie. In fact, doing the jump made me realised how much I didn’t ever want to do it again.
But it did change everything else!
I let go!
I let go of staying still, I let go of not experiencing life in case I got hurt, I let go of feeling like everything was a threat and I let go of the girl trapped the fort! I suddenly started my life again, started making decisions to be happy, to move forward and to live my life a little bit more adventurously again.
Don’t worry, I still love my fort like a crack whore loves crack and have an incredibly long way to go, especially when it comes to putting myself out there creatively, but I have come a VERY long way.
I ask my students the same question every week, “What’s the worst that can happen?”
And my answer is always this:
Nothing! You might get it wrong, but the world won’t stop, the ceiling isn’t going to cave in, a dinosaur is not going to burst through the window. You won’t die!
(I also make them fist pump at the end of every session, sans the heavy snot-faced crying from me.)
Here’s the thing – I didn’t die and it felt awesome! I have since gone on to do hundreds of things that have terrified me, including starting this blog, but I still need reminding of my own advice on an almost daily basis at the moment.
So I would like to up the challenge.
Here is my pledge:
I Challenge myself to do one thing that scares me every week for the next year!
Challenge #1: I have booked myself on to an improvisation class this week – the epitome of letting go! I will report back next week!
Welcome to my fort, it has cats, over-sized scarves and buckets of tea in it!