Fear is the ultimate paralytic, and its specter can creep up in so many ways, preventing us from growing or otherwise acting beneficially. Sometimes, it’s fear of failure or heartbreak. And not in just the sappy Nicholas Sparks sense, but any time your heart desires something so bad that it aches almost unbearably when you fall short. Other times, it’s fear of imperfection. Even as I’m writing this, I’m worried that this post itself won’t be perfect. That whoever is reading this will find that I’m boring or a shitty writer. But that’s exactly why I write — to get better.
Fear is always driven by risk. If risk = 0, there must be no fear. We fear taking exams, because there is a risk that we might fail or otherwise not live up to lofty expectations. We fear death, because there really are a thousand ways to die. I fear needles, but that’s really just irrational. And yes, I fear love, because of the real, unavoidable chance of raw heartbreak. But without risk, there can be no reward, and there can be no growth. Only safety, mediocrity, predictability, and occasional fleeting luck. A greyscale world, devoid of all color. And that’s not a world I want to live in, even though it’s always more comfortable to not fight the inertia that whispers in our ears and reminds us that if we take risks, we will fall, we will hurt, and our hearts will break.
Being free from fear doesn’t mean that I won’t fail though; in fact, I certainly will, and many times at that. But you just have to get up one more time than you fall, and that’s exactly when you grow. For example, I really think that not making an Improv Space mainstage team was probably the best thing that happened to me as an improviser. Yes, I failed. And it sucked, and for a long time, I tried to justify to myself (and everybody around me) that at least I would have made a team but then I had to audition again and blah blah blah. But that failure showed me that I definitely wasn’t as good as I thought I was and that I had a whole lot of learning to do, both about improv and also about losing. Hard lessons, for sure, but I only experienced the rewards of playing in the LA Improv Comedy Festival and at iO/Neon Venus/other indie places after essentially being pushed back on the (obviously pantomimed) horse by those who believed in me. (No, it wasn’t me — I was about ready to quit improv, and I’m so glad I listened to them.) And growth doesn’t have to be a sprint; it can be slow, baby steps, but intentional and continuous. I’m trying to grow just a bit in all aspects of my life, to learn something new every day. Whether it’s learning a new language while driving, reading a book while commuting, or doodling on a guitar (usually when nobody is home).
So at the end of the day, it is kind of like being in love. You don’t really know when you’re in love until you are. You just know. Aside from pheromones and love chemicals, it defies logical, rational explanation. Nobody just says “I’m going to focus on being in love tonight when I go to the club.” If anything, that’s probably the best way to not get laid. It just happens. Or since love is admittedly not my strong suit, it’s kind of like jiu jitsu. When I was a white belt, my sole focus was getting a blue belt. I don’t think I really cared about being good, I just wanted that two inch wide strip of midnight blue cotton that told other people that I was good. I would tell people that I was a white belt, but I could be a blue belt…in the same way that I catch myself telling people that yes, I’m a blue belt, but I could be a purple soon. But result-oriented thinking prevents you from staying in the present and allows fear to make itself at home in my mind again. The fear of tapping out to a lower belt was the same fear that makes me not want to place a fragile heart in the hands of someone who may break it again, the same fear of imperfection that causes me to procrastinate on pretty much everything. The same fear that causes me to focus on the result rather than the journey of growth. I think I really only started to get decent at jiu jitsu when I stopped caring about the results of when I’d get promoted, about who tapped me out and who I tapped out. And I think I got a lot better at improv when I stopped caring about who was supposed to be funnier or unfunnier than me. And at the moment where I stopped being so afraid, where I stopped focusing on the end result, I found myself exactly where I wanted to be so badly in the first place. You don’t know how much you’ve grown until you look back down the mountain one day and suddenly realize it. Just like being promoted, and just like being in love.