“Do one thing everyday that scares you.”—Eleanor Roosevelt
Years ago I took this tidbit of self-improvement advice very much to heart, and I continue to remind myself on a regular basis that the thing that most scares my pants off is probably exactly the thing I should be doing. Tackling one scary thing a day is surprisingly easy to do! This is especially true if (like me) you are a shy person. When I first started pushing myself to deal with the things I found nerve-wracking, it usually had to do with introducing myself to strangers. At concerts, for instance, as much as I always wanted to talk to the musicians afterwards, the idea of walking up to meet them seemed terrifying. But I pushed myself to do just that over and over (*insert angst here*), and now it’s not scary at all. Same goes for public speaking—the first time I gave a presentation to a composition seminar, I thought I might very well pass out, but since then I have come to really enjoy the process. Who knew it could actually be fun?!
Because the whole point (in my experience, at least) of engaging in things that one finds scary is to grow and stretch as a person, I also make every effort to kick it directly into my music making. Of course we all have plans in mind for musical projects and for the direction we want our musical lives to go, and opportunities arise that we may or may not, for whatever reasons, take advantage of. For me, the projects that have fallen outside of what I originally envisioned doing musically have actually turned out to be some of the most successful, in terms of being rewarding experiences, and they have led to other fruitful opportunities which I never could have foreseen. When projects such as these come up, if my first internal reaction is, “Oh, I’m not sure that’s for me,” I always end up engaging in the following internal conversation:
“Wait, why do I think that? Does it seem interesting?”
“Okay. Does it make sense for me to do that?”
“It’s not on my list of stuff I want to do AND/OR it’s completely impractical for a million reasons.”
“So what? Might it still be awesome?
“Okay. So what exactly is the problem?”
“The problem is that I don’t know how to AND/OR whether I can deal with (*insert problematic element here*).”
“So basically I’m scared.”
“Uh, yeah. I am going to write this piece, aren’t I?”
“Yes. Yes, I am.”
Over time, the “problematic elements,” which could include anything from instrumentation to production-related challenges or deadline issues have changed, but no matter what thing originally gave me pause, I have never regretted taking on a musical project that required the above conversation. Once it’s under way, the fear tends to subside pretty quickly (since it is generally not based in reality anyway). And even if it doesn’t, the energy it provides serves as a forceful impetus to work hard, figure things out, and make it happen.
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”— Friedrich Nietzsche.