Daring Stupidly: Pay Attention!

My pre-performance face of jitters. But I do it anyway.

(Note: Part 2 of a series exploring my reaction to “ Daring Greatly ” by Brene Brown, and how vulnerability and shame get in the way of living life. See Daring Stupidly, Part 1)

Ten Difficult Ways to Create a One-Woman Show (Or, What the Hell Was I Thinking?)

#1: Pay Attention!

Have you ever turned down a social invitation just because it would require you to attend by yourself? All alone? Or maybe you’ve resisted a new professional or personal opportunity because, well … what if you fail? For most of us, the mere hint of being vulnerable stops us in our tracks from doing amazing things.

In fact, most of us spend exceptional amounts of energy avoiding situations that might make us feel vulnerable (thereby avoiding the related feelings of pain, embarrassment, humiliation and shame that might come along with them). Or when we do step out of our safety net and try something new, we often just beat ourselves up about it afterwards … feeling stupid for even trying.

But guess what? By ignoring opportunity and avoiding these situations altogether, we ultimately miss out on the very experiences we say we crave! We tell ourselves, “I need to be more social/successful/visible! I want to feel alive! I want to be an involved, dynamic and vital person in this world!” And then we talk ourselves out of doing the very things that will get us there … because they’re too scary or intimidating or overwhelming. We don’t pay attention.

I’ve spent over 25 years working hard and making a living doing things that directly set me up for this self-defeating cycle. As a writer, speaker and performer, I constantly face potential rejection, criticism and discomfort. And believe me, I have experienced my share of all three. Sometimes I just want to throw in the towel, call it quits and bury my head in the sand. How’s that for a head full of idioms?

But here’s the rub: there’s just no way to improve, grow and build audiences without taking risks over and over again … even though it might lead to bad reviews, adverse opinions, rejected proposals or even worse … indifference.

In January 2013, I was fed up. I had an almost-finished humor book taking up space in my laptop that I just didn’t like. I had a stack of humor columns in my repertoire that no one seemed interested in publishing. I was watching newspapers and tabloids cut back, fire staff and turn up their noses at the idea of investing in humor writers. And I was feeling stuck.

A friend of mine was performing at a local storytelling event for theatre and arts organization in Indianapolis. She asked me to go with her for emotional support as she shared a personal story linked to that month’s theme, “New Year’s Resolutions.” I was happy to go, as I knew she’d be terrific. I was even happier when I found out there’d be wine.

 

At the end of the scheduled guest presentations (there were three), a moderator stood up and said, “I’d like to open this up to the audience. Does anyone want to tell us an impromptu story about New Year’s Resolutions?”

I looked around the room, but no one came forward. Now … if I had thought too much about it, I would have talked myself out of it. “No way am I going to stand up and look stupid,” I would have told myself. “I’m not prepared! Everyone will laugh, and not for the right reasons. Keep your mouth shut.”

But my gut was telling me, “Go for it! You feel stuck? Put yourself out there and see what happens! Walk the walk, baby!”

So I found myself gliding toward the stage and standing in front of the microphone. I stared out at the lights and rows full of strangers and thought, “Holy Hell, what have I done? There’s no turning back.” I blamed it on the wine.

As luck would have it, I had just published a humor column about how much I hate New Year’s Resolutions, so this wasn’t exactly a foreign topic to me. I honestly have no idea what I said over the next few minutes. I’m pretty sure I heard people chuckle and react to my spontaneous thoughts, although I still don’t know if they were laughing at me or with me.

When I sat back down, my crappy self-talk kicked in (Brene Brown calls these ugly things Gremlins). “Why did you do that? You just made a fool of yourself. Who are you to think you could just stand up and talk like that? You should have turned down that last glass of wine.”

But then something unexpected happened. Once the event concluded, a woman came over and reached out her hand. She introduced herself as the executive director of the hosting organization, which also sponsors an annual theatre festival. “You were great!” she said. “So funny! You should do a one-woman show!”

Of course I thought she was crazy, but I thanked her for her kind words (secretly wondering if she said the same thing to all the poor souls who were stupid enough to get on stage). But a seed was planted.

Looking back, I realize that had I been in my self-protective shutdown mode, I wouldn’t have ever stood up in front of a room full of strangers in the first place, nor would I have given any thought to those comments.

But because I was feeling stuck, stagnate and frustrated, my mind was somehow open to new opportunities. I was paying attention.

What happened next? Well, this small moment in time was the slow beginning of something extraordinary. In Part 3, I will introduce the next step in my completely unscientific but highly recommended series, Ten Difficult Ways to Create a One-Woman Show (or, What The Hell Was I Thinking?). It’s, “Take the Plunge” … are you ready to get wet?

Michelle Freed is a journalist, humorist, public speaker, playwright, and sometimes … a cheap therapist. She is an Indianapolis Star correspondent, a corporate communications specialist, and is a closet disco queen. She is passionate about women’s issues.

©2013 Michelle Freed

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