Overcoming the Fear of Failure

Has anyone else experienced the crippling fear that comes right before a performance? If not, welcome to planet earth because you cant possibly be human.

When I was 6 or 7 years old, my mom decided that I was going to sing in front of the church. To be fair, when she presented the idea to me it sounded fun. She didn’t have to coerce me into saying yes; I, in blind naiveté, agreed that this would be my debut performance. Leading up to the service, I practiced with my cousins in our backyard. Between giggles we sang a simple church song that we learned at summer camp and religiously replayed in our car cassette tape player. After “practice” was over, we would joke around about becoming the TLC or being Brittany Spears. Mind you, up until this point the reality of what I was about to do hadn’t fully developed.

The night of the service, my mom brought me to the downstairs “snack” room (this was before we had designated mommy areas and the lobby of both restrooms served as the area where moms fed their babies talked during the 3 hour service). “You ready?” she asked.

“Wait…where is everybody else?” I asked as the nerves slowly started to form butterflies in my stomach.

“It’s just you. Just remember how we practiced, let’s sing…1,2,3,4!”

That moment was when those cute butterflies became lead weights in my stomach and I froze. I would prefer to say I blacked-out and vaguely remember what happened next, but I would be lying. I remember everything to the T.

The director (I’m not sure what his proper title was but it was equivalent to the master of ceremonies) called my name to “bless the church with a song.” My mom firmly guided me up two steps onto the main stage, put the mic in my hand and gingerly went to take a seat in the front row eager to cue me should I get lost. Thankfully, I didn’t lose my place. Unfortunately, I didn’t start at all. I stood there, frozen in from of what felt like 5,000 people staring at me not able to even open my mouth to sing. It felt like an eternity! Somewhere between what is on record as the longest five seconds in human history, my mom realized I was stuck, rushed to wrap her arm around me, and began to coax the words out of me by singing herself.

It didn’t work. I was completely frozen, mind wiped blank. There was no saving me. I wasn’t going to join the ranks of Destiny’s Child or the Backstreet Boys.

All that to say, performing for people still to this day fills me with nerves. There is something about doing something solely for the approval of others that cripples me with fear. Over the years I’ve learned how to get over it or at the very least push through it. And to be honest, I fell into the same pattern with my writing, and not just this blog either. I’ve for the past month have been stuck, frozen with fear at the idea that my last original song, my last poem, my last post was the best that was in me. There was nothing else to give and everyone who was waiting for more would be disappointed if I made anything else. I felt trapped by a past-tense, greater version of me.

I was trapped between the impossible burden of other’s expectations and my own fear of failure. So rather than pushing through I stopped. I stopped writing music. I stopped writing down ideas. I stopped reading the Word which inspires me the most. I stopped sharing and disguised it as a “break.”

I’d like to say there was a specific thing that happened to snap me back. I can’t pinpoint one thing. But I can say, a well placed prayer by a close friend, meeting up with new friends eager about social justice and women of today, and carrying around my journal with me everywhere I went again allowed me to warm myself back into picking up my figurative (sometimes literal) pen.

Fear can be crippling and it’s not fun. If you find yourself afraid to step into the unknown or even afraid that your past days were your best, please hear me when I say, THATS NOT THE POINT. The point of writing, painting, being a salesman, being a human being is not to arrive at your goal perfectly. You will sometimes create things that are bad (I have a book full of horrible songs to prove it). But works of art are created by pushing through the uncomfortable. You can arrive at a masterpiece without first experiencing some mess.

Today I’m praying you break out of that cycle of fear that threatens to conceal the gifts you carry. We need what you’ve got, mess and all.

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