The world slows down right before an audition. I’m hyper conscious of my body. My palms are sweaty. My heart beats fast. My mouth is parched. My knees lock. My neck and shoulders seize with tension. The words NO, I CAN’T, SHUT DOWN, ABORT, ABORT, ABORT ring loud in my ears. Images of defeat, rejection, dejection, and loss run like a Ken Burns effect slide show through my head. I focus my breathing. Unlock my knees. I forgive myself. I say YES. And like the moment I stood looking over a ravine in Costa Rica with a bungee chord attached to my body, the door opens, and I jump.
I have an intimate relationship with FEAR. I have been a professional actor for the past 13 years and on a daily basis I am confronted with a plethora of FEARS. FEAR of rejection, FEAR of no, FEAR of not being good enough, FEAR of failure, FEAR of letting people down, FEAR of not being attractive enough, FEAR of making an ass of myself, FEAR of not making enough money, FEAR of what comes next, FEAR of being found out, FEAR of being on stage, FEAR of messing up, the list goes on and on. Five years ago, in the middle of an audition in New York City, a director looked at me and said, “You’re FEARLESS aren’t you?”. It took me a second to take that in. In that moment I thought of all the things that terrified me. It was a laundry list of FEARS like the one I just shared. I looked at him and said, “Yes, I am FEARLESS.”
That moment got me thinking. What does it mean to be FEARLESS? Is it the absence of fear? Is it the elimination of fear? I had always thought that FEARLESS meant operating in a space without FEAR. However, the closer I examined the word itself, it occurred to me that it means operating in a diminished state of FEAR.
To gain power over FEAR, the first thing you have to do is acknowledge that it is there. Fear is a gangrenous wound in our thoughts that paralyses us from action. FEAR festers in silence, unrecognized. Once you acknowledge its presence you can distinguish FEAR for what it is . . . it is just FEAR. In the throes of the Great Depression, on the occasion of his First Inaugural Address, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously proclaimed
“... let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
Fear clutches, grips, closes, constrains, paralyzes, seizes, holds, and terrorizes. There is little or no room for movement if you operate in a “nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror”. Once FEAR can just be FEAR, its power starts to lessen. In the release of this clutch, grip, constraint, paralysis, terror, there is space, breath, an opening. The FEAR remains. It just LESSENS.
So we have named FEAR and distinguished it. What happens next? In the space that is created you can begin to take actions and steps to operate in spite of FEAR. Wait.
We got ahead of ourselves. Before you take a step, you must first stand. The stand is necessary to take that initial step. You stand and take a step onstage even though there is a chance that you may forget a line, or you may fail miserably, or the audience won’t like you. You stand and take a step toward that person who you have a crush on and ask them out on a date even though you are terrified that they may say NO. You stand and take a step onto a plane even though you are terrified of flying and death. FEARLESS does not mean that the fear is gone. It means that you stand, take steps and ultimately leap and dance in the face of it.
One of the earliest FEARS that I distinguished in my life was the FEAR OF SELF- EXPRESSION. I was a young boy growing up in Miami, FL who did not fit the traditional gender constructs of middle class Cuban-American upbringing. I do have an identical- twin brother that does. On the soccer field, my twin brother dominated. He played forward, midfield, defense and goalie. I played defense (the 6 year old soccer equivalent of right field) and was the only player in the history of AYSO to finish the soccer season with a rock collection named after the Von Trapp children. When my brother and I played war with our toys, my brother meant it. He played war. His soldiers were on the front, fighting and dying. I played WAR! THE MUSICAL. My soldiers fought and died in song and dance.
Everything was glorious, until one day something changed. In an instant, the expression of myself - my creativity, my humor, my sensibility became “different” and “wrong”. I became afraid of standing out. Standing out meant name-calling, jeers, bullying. Standing out meant “your weird”. Standing out meant “You act like a girl”. Standing out meant “Your so gay”. I was terrified of being associated with words like “weird”, “girl” and “gay” so I retreated and repressed my self expression. I chose to stand out in other ways. In ways that I thought would gain approval and validation from others. Ways that would allow people to love me. I focused on academics, athletics, but deep down I believed no one could love the real me.
I came out of the closet on a fall evening at the beginning of my Freshman Year of college. It was 1995, BW&G . . . Before Will & Grace. For me the moment of recognition and acknowledgement was so simple. No swelling chords of a Broadway Musical orchestra. No button at the end of a glitzy production number. Just a simple “aha” moment. I had always known that other people were gay, but it wasn’t until that instant I realized I was gay. I was suddenly able to name the FEAR . . . the pain, the anguish, the self-doubt, the deepening and silencing of my voice, the constant beating myself up was all tied to my FEAR of being gay. Being gay was not a possibility in my youth. I remember sitting in the bathroom of my childhood home, clutching Volume “H” of the World Book Encyclopedia, clinging to the line in the entry about Homosexuality, stating that in some cases homosexuals can change. I was going to change or die trying. Many years later, on that autumnal, misty Philadelphia night, I took a stand. I acknowledged that I am what I most FEARED. I am a gay man. In the act of accepting my homosexuality I became FEARLESS in the face of it. As the paralysis of FEAR subsided, I was able to come out to my family a couple of months later and finally be honest about myself to those I love the most in the world. As the grip of FEAR lessened,
I was able to acknowledge that I really wanted to sing, dance and stand out. In that freedom I had the courage to set off to pursue the career of my dreams. As the terror of FEAR subsided, I was able to reignite the journey of self expression.
On a daily basis I am confronted with FEAR and am actively engaged in a conversation with myself on how to distinguish and diminish its power in my life. The very act of writing this blog entry (the first in my life) is a confrontation with my FEAR OF WRITING. I was an English Major at a very prestigious university and I have never thought that my writing ability measures up to my academic pedigree. I’m a talker - not a writer. So I can seize up and not write at all choosing to believe that none of you are going to like my entry. I can convince myself your reading this is a waste of time. I can choose to not write this entry because all of you will judge my terrible use of grammar. I can procrastinate and resign myself in the belief that there is nothing of value in what I have to say or share. Now if I use the logic of living a life where I Fear less - I can distinguish these thoughts as just the voice of FEAR. My FEAR of Rejection, FEAR of Not Being Smart Enough, FEAR of Not Being Eloquent Enough. Now that I know what the voice is,Icanstandinthefaceofit. Takeastep...writetheentry...andshareitwithallof you anyway.