Break out of the mold


It can be terrifying to put yourself out there. I know: I’ve made a living at it, and it’s still hard.

Acting. Writing. Just showing up to a networking event, or posting a profile to an online dating site, much less walking up to your hero/dreamboat, sticking out your hand and introducing yourself.

And what I’m gathering, as I slither on up the mountainside, is that no matter how good you get at whatever, that “whatever” just gets scary in new and significant ways. In other words, the Thing We Must Do is always mildly terrifying for some of us: it just becomes terrifying more in the good way, like how skydivers must look at things like hurling themselves from aircraft 10,000 feet up, or Olympic gymnasts must look at hurling themselves over whatever in front of ever-more judgmental people (they’re judges, for crying out loud) for ever-greater record-breaking stakes, or other aficionados who manage to get really, really good at what they do, throwing off the feeling of “easy” when really it’s more like “habituated.”

This is my truth: every new hand I reach out to shake mildly terrifies me. Every room I walk into, every stage I step onto, every camera I step in front of sends a wisp of a thread of fear through me. Pray for me when it doesn’t, while we’re at it; the worst you can hope for as a performer is that you sleepwalk through a performance, that the thrill doesn’t scoop you up in its palm and rattle your insides a wee bit.

Here’s a short list of what scares me right now:

  • Succeeding.
  • Failing.
  • Succeeding again, then failing.
  • Losing my friends.
  • Losing my limbs.
  • Losing my glasses and having no pair handy and having to drive somewhere blind.
  • Auditioning for something I really, really want and not getting it.
  • Or getting it.
  • Meeting Barack Obama and having to explain why I gave money instead of campaigning for him.
  • Meeting Michelle Obama and having to explain why I gave money instead of campaigning for her husband.
  • Meeting my Maker (I’m really, really hoping the atheists are right on this one) and having to explain everything.
  • Losing my rent-control apartment here in a tony section of Los Angeles.
  • Never leaving my rent-control apartment here in a tony section of Los Angeles.
  • Letting people down.
  • Dying with the music in me.
  • Being poor.
  • Being rich.

With the possible exception of the apartment and Barack Obama (okay, and “being rich”) this is a list I could just as easily have scribbled into my freshman-year journal (I couldn’t have predicted such a long-term stay in Los Angeles nor a black President). In other words, nothing really changes, as my first shrink-slash-astrologer said a long, long time ago, you just get better at doing an end run around yourself.

I did three terrifying things between yesterday and today. When I think about it, that’s kind of my prescriptive for getting out of most dumbass, self-induced jams. Terrify yourself, mildly to wildly, situation-dependent.

Extend yourself, emotionally or financially (this, assuming you generally have your head so firmly affixed you run for the hills rather than do either as a matter of course).

Or extend yourself physically. Or hey, pull way the hell back, if your default mode is extension.

You know. You know better than I ever could.

It will keep you alive. It will keep you raw, and on your toes, and in the joyous, explosive, terrifying, exhilarating game of life.

Extend. Withdraw. Switch it up.

Plug into the juice. And go, baby, go…


Image by woodleywonderworks via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.


  1. I say that if it makes you feel uncomfortable, then you’re probably on the right track. Doing something right, pushing yourself to the limit, achieving big goals…all of that requires you to do things that force you to step out of your comfort zone. So like I said, if it makes you feel uncomfortable, you’re on the right track.

    Like you said, “go, baby, go!”

  2. Who knew that we were signing up for a diet of fear, terror and euphoria?! I’ve got to admit, it’s way more fun than bland and every success feels like a national holiday since we made it happen ourselves.

    So true that popping that bubble-wrap of fears makes you feels powerful! I love it …”plug into the juice”!

  3. I have suggested your stuff to three different people now, and I’m sure the list will grow. My single mom with balls of steel (female balls of course), raising a one armed boy, survived a rape, beatings, robberies, abusive male friend, and more, is one of the people I’ve reccomended your emails and site to. Thank you.

    Great Stuff Colleen.


  4. On the upside, I don’t think the Obamas are going to grill you over campaign involvement if you get to meet them. Also if God is omniscient like people seem to think she/he/it is, you shouldn’t have to explain anything if that situation arises.

    As for the pushing boundaries, I know what you say to be true but I resist it so much. “…that no matter how good you get at whatever, that “whatever” just gets scary in new and significant ways” also seems true and horribly discouraging.

    What really gets me: “the Thing We Must Do is always mildly terrifying for some of us.” Some of us. It’s so easy to get hung up on the natural ease of other people…extroverts, people who thrive on networking… even introverts who are just better at meeting people than I am. Sure, something else probably terrifies them, but the networking, the loathsome networking, is so fundamental…

  5. Very timely! Went to my second networking event of the week. They both started out painful (i.e. I was nervous and uncomfortable walking into room full of strangers) and then turned out just fine (I didn’t die and no one laughed at me or ignored me). This is a great reminder from you to get out there and do it anyway! I am so impressed by people like you that will push through the pain and fear and ‘do it anyway.’ You rock! Thanks for provided me with some very timely validation.

  6. Ricardo – There is that fine line where you cross over into danger (the stuff your gut warns you about) but otherwise, yeah—the fear is a great indicator.

    Anne – “Bubble wrap of fears”? How awesome is that!?

    PP – Love that ever-present positivity of yours!

    Michael – Pretty much anything I could say would seem trite or dim. So I’ll just say “thank you” and leave it at that. Love to your mum.

    Claire – You’re right—the Obamas are a pretty classy bunch. And I think you’ve hit the nose on the head re: the extroverts, many of whom live in fear of spending time by themselves. In fear! Now that’s a horrid way to go through life.

    Christy – Good for you! They do get easier, like most things, the more you do them. Keep it up! Go! Go!

  7. What a great post, and Anne, I’ll be using that “bubble-wrap of fears” image a lot!! My current situation is full of all sorts of fears – some real, some instilled by someone else, a few imagined. I’m just gonna pop as many of those as I can every day!

    And, when it’s time for me to work on networking eventually, I’ll remember this post to help ease through it.

    I’ll be back! Thanks to the Happiness Project for the link to you. :-)

  8. Totally true in so many ways. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all recognize that we ALL get a little fearful? Even those we look up to? Even those who’ve “made it?”

    This year, I did something a little fearful for me: I joined I’m not sure if I was afraid of a relationship, or just finding a relationship online, but I did it anyway. And honestly, it didn’t really work out for me (yet). But at least now I’m open to finding someone.

    PLUS – it inspired me to use the experience for my business. I just posted a personal ad for my business, and would love feedback. Check it out:

    p.s. – You rock

  9. Jason – Back atcha, kid.

    PicsieChick – Gretchen is the source of much goodness. Glad to have you.

    Tea – Keep at the Match thing! And maybe consider trying a few different sites. They have their various quirks and such; I met lots of people on all of them, but had the best luck on Spring Street Networks, where The BF and I met over four years ago.

  10. “In other words, nothing really changes, as my first shrink-slash-astrologer said a long, long time ago—you just get better at doing an end run around yourself.”

    I love this imagery – so very very apt. And makes me proud of myself for learning how to be an effective wide-receiver!

  11. hi

    you spell out my obstacles, paralyzing and otherwise, as well as my inspiration just as I am uncovering them for myself and your clarity and your wisdom help me a little bit every time I visit.

    so, thanks

  12. Sunny – There are rewards for having been married to The Chief Atheist; one of them is definitely a host of sports-related metaphors at my disposal.

    Rachel – Thank you for your kindness and your bravery. I’ll keep it up if you will.

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