In certain scenarios I secretly hate it when people say things like ‘you’re gonna do it!’ I know they mean well, but it often tempts me to put a lot of pressure on myself.
For example, when someone says, “I know you’ll be famous some day” I hear that and instantly think: ‘I have to be famous. Crap. What if it doesn’t happen. I’ll have failed this person.’
It takes something I’d like to do for myself and makes it something I have to do for others. And I’m not always the best at that. Even as a kid, I didn’t like doing things other people told me to. Even when those things were good for me. The fact that someone told me to do it, turned me off the idea entirely.
To a certain extent, that went away with maturity, but a powerful sliver remains that mutated into something more psychologically damaging. Rather than rebel against doing what someone tells me to, it becomes part of a narrative in my mind where I simply must do something no matter how impossible it seems. And that makes me anxious and depressed.
As a kid, I would often clean my room when no one told me to. I would look around the room, see it’s a mess and decide to put things away. It was immensely satisfying to look around and realize I accomplished all that. And it only happened because I felt like doing it. Not because someone told me to.
In the past few years I have put an enormous amount of pressure on myself to succeed in life. And when I think about it it feels like there’s a metaphorical gun being held to my head by someone. However, that someone can only be me. It’s all in my mind. So, why does the pressure feel so real if it’s only in my head?
This mostly has to do with my own expectations of me, but a small part of it comes from other people’s expectations of me. When people – who have the best intentions – say something like ‘you’ll totally become a professional writer’ or ‘there’s no reason Hollywood shouldn’t cast you,” that fuels the intensity of the imaginary man who holds the gun. It exacerbates him.
Tonight I came to an epiphany. A way to potentially rid myself of the feelings of anxiety and depression caused by this man with the gun scenario. I’m going to start telling myself that I don’t have to win.
I’m not saying I’m not going to win. I’m not saying I’m not going to try. I’m saying it’s not a choice of ‘win or die.’ Rather its a choice of succeed or fail. And failure is an option. It’s by no means my favorite option – quite the opposite. But it’s not the equivalent of being shot in the head.
It’s just failure. Failure is not something to fear. It’s something to embrace. I have failed before. It didn’t crush me. Didn’t end me. Didn’t make me miserable.
I failed at sports growing up. I played football for one year. I was terrible. Played basketball two years in high school. I sucked.
I got fired from my only real civilian full time job. I had lost interest in it. And I failed.
I failed to get a spot on the touring company with Second City.
I failed at being engaged. Usually engagements end in marriage. This one just ended.
I failed to show up on time to set once and everyone was waiting on me.
I have failed at many things. I used to think of these things as black marks on my permanent record. But that’s not true. They’re simply events. Maybe they hold in them some great life lessons, but they didn’t break me. I’m still here.
I toured with M.I. instead of Second City. I still worked for Second City on their cruise ships and I still work for them as a teacher. And I’m a damn great one too.
I’m currently in the best relationship of my life.
I have made my living as a performer ever since that day job fired me.
My friend’s web series still got made. Me being late didn’t screw up the whole production.
So, maybe I’ll fail at a lot more things. Bring it on. I’m not afraid of failure.
In fact, I’m going to start using a phrase that I often use in my classes to tell to myself. ‘Dare to fail.’ When I say this to my students it’s to take the pressure off of themselves to succeed at improv exercises. I tell them that every great improviser has failed at thousands of improv scenes and games. The only way to get great is to fail a whole bunch, learn from it, get better and fail less frequently.
Now, I’m saying it to myself. But I mean something slightly different.
Here’s the deal: There’s no way to know for certain if you’ll succeed or fail at anything. You cannot guarantee success. If that’s true, then you cannot put the demand on yourself to do it. Because the demand is meaningless. It’s just a bunch of pressure and intensity with no guarantee of helping. It’s not helpful.
So, if I might fail no matter what, then I dare myself to fail with a smile on my face. This won’t guarantee I’ll fail. As far as I can tell it won’t significantly (if at all) decrease my odds of success. But what it will do is take the pressure off myself from myself.
If I ‘dare to fail’ then I’ll still pursue my dreams, but I’m going to make sure I”m happy while I do it. I have put so many things on hold trying to chase my dreams. I haven’t vacationed very much. I haven’t played sports a lot in the last few years even though that used to be one of my favorite things. I haven’t played a lot of video games or my guitar.
There’s so many things that I love to do, but whenever I take too much time for the fun stuff then I scold myself for not spending my time working on my career. And that sucks, because that means my goal of being a successful writer/actor has become the thing stopping me from having fun.
Now, I do believe that those who succeed do sacrifice things for that, but they also find a system to balance it all out. That’s where ‘dare to fail’ comes in. When it’s time to work, I’m not going to worry about being perfect or even good. I’m just going to do it. I’m going to work on something (an audition, a screenplay, whatever) for an allotted amount of time. And even if I don’t feel I was as productive as I wanted to be I’m going to move on. And have some guilt free down time.
I dare myself to fail at life. And I dare myself to have fun while doing it.