A day will come when you have a choice: you can stay as you are, protected and reassured, a bud guarded by petals that will never bloom — or, you can emerge. You can open yourself to your surroundings and enter a fearful, exciting, unpredictable new world.
And it’s easy to say you would choose the later. Most of us would. Put in context, which bouquet would you rather receive on Valentine’s Day: the unblossomed carnations or the blooming roses?
Yet, even knowing our choice, we get in our own way. We fear the unknown. We fear potential failure. We fear vulnerability and perhaps looking the fool. We fear losing everything that we have — the certainty and security of the present — for a chance to have something more. We lose faith in ourselves.
And we go into hiding, or rather, we never emerge. We allow our lives to shrink in proportion to our fear. We allow our selves to shrink.
We forget, that at every moment, the potential to bloom remains a choice.
In fact, this choice drives comedy every day. Believe it or not, most novice comedians do not make a living on laughter. We have daytime jobs and professional positions. Some of the greatest improv comedians I know are brain surgeons and rocket scientists, therapists and accountants. (And to the rest of my comedy friends, add your profession; I don’t mean to leave you out!) The wittiest characters on stage dress in a suit and tie every day.
And when they step on stage, they blossom.
Not that they weren’t their beautiful, authentic selves during the 9 to 5, but on stage they let all restraint go. If the scene calls for playfulness, they crawl around in the imagined sand. If the scene calls for outrage, they let their characters lose control. And when the scene turns quiet or starts to get lost, they let themselves emerge. Nothing rescues a scene more than a statement as honest and sincere as, “Geeze, I’m afraid I’ll always be alone,” or “You know, I really do want to feel like a kid again.” In moments of honesty, we all can relate.
No wonder an improv teammate makes for a lifetime friend. Very few people are willing to jump to that level of authenticity in a public place.
Offstage, though, where life actually happens, many of us are logical thinkers. There are certainly costs to “playing it safe” and keeping ourselves protected, and they just never seem to outweigh the risks of letting our true selves emerge. Or so we choose to believe.
But let’s play pretend for a minute. Let’s jump into a world in which there is no fear, a world in which you soar with untethered vibrancy. Imagine the sunlight streaming out across your joyous face, its touch so comfortably warm. Keep your eyes closed, and allow the joy to stay. Feel it throughout your body. And realize, in the steadiness of your breath, this joy is always there; it is always possible when you let fear fade away.
I do know, letting go of fear is not easy. Fear can feel like an engrained part of our brains. From an evolutionary perspective, it is! Fear is what protected our ancestors from the lion on the prowl. And often, the greatest fears in our way are internal; they are fears we imagine and fears we create.
Not too long ago, I was out to midnight tea with a group of friends. Quite naturally, our conversation turned to the topic of fear. Being a cold New England night, our focus was on external fears, fears such as those that arise in horror films. As we went around the table, we recognized that, after a horror film, we were haunted by thoughts of ghosts or stranglers, demons and monsters. A common theme was fear of being caught by surprise, resulting in being harmed. Naturally, that’s the fear that drives plot in any good horror film.
Being the odd one out, though, I realized I wasn’t afraid — not of ghosts or attacks. The shock factor of horror didn’t affect me. And my reasoning was simple: if something were to jump out from a bush at night, that would be reality. I would have no control. I would have no rewind button to take a different street. So what’s the value of worrying? My fear wouldn’t result in a magical power to turn back time. In fact, fear would just waste all the good time in the moments before that sudden attack.
I know, my insight won’t make the cut for the next horror flick ad.
The thing is, even having such a realistic perspective on fear, it can be hard to disregard our more personal fears. When you are afraid of failure, it seems impossible to accept that failure could happen, and it’s out of your hands. That’s what the fear is trying to help you avoid! When you are afraid of vulnerability, nothing is more counterintuitive than accepting that you might just get hurt. Um, reminder: that’s what your “keep-out-the-world” wall is for.
But remember that untethered smile.
When you choose to open yourself to the world, you will be afraid. That’s okay. You will also be courageous. When you choose to explore your full potential, you will experience joy and pain, and every emotion in-between. It will be quite the ride. When you let go of who you are now, you will grow with experiences you would have never imagined. And when you have those experiences, you’ll wonder why you ever let the fear of change stand in your way.