Two words: Audience. Participation.
If those words don’t cause a negative physical reaction when you read them, this post isn’t for you. If, however, you suffered an involuntary shudder when you read them or maybe threw up a little in your mouth, you will appreciate this post.
Last week I heard words I have come to dread, “Hey, do you want to go to the Brewery Follies?” I have nothing against the performers of the follies, they are arguably some of the most talented people I have ever seen perform. I simultaneously laugh and marvel at that show more than any other. Heck, I would go every year if it wasn’t for their penchant for including random members of the audience in their performance.
If you read my post last week about introversion, it should come as no surprise I would frown on audience participation. It’s everything my introverted self hates. Talking in front of strangers without preparation. Being the center of attention. And in the case of the follies, strangers looking at me while laughing. It’s the stuff of my nightmares.
I have been to the Brewery Follies many times in the last 17 years and have devised strategies to avoid being in their target. Sit in the back. Don’t make eye contact. Bring more outgoing people with me who thrive on such things. Use the bathroom at opportune times. Duck down behind the people in front of me. Fake a coughing fit and run from the room when they head my way. You know, those kinds of things.
It has always worked.
Until this week.
Sure enough, two songs from the end, just as I was beginning to breathe and relax thinking I had escaped once again, they did the unthinkable. They started down my row. In the back.
My mind started to race. My palms started to sweat. I began to hyperventilate. What was happening?!? They’d never come down the back rows. Ever. In all seventeen years. My internal dialogue kicked in.
Crap. Is he headed towards me?
No. He stopped at that other woman.
Shit. He’s moving down my row and his bit isn’t over yet.
What did I just do?! Did I make eye contact? I’m doomed.
Yep. He’s coming towards me and still talking.
Do I make a break for it? Do I push my friend in front of him? Put my hood over my head? No, that would make it worse.
Fuck. He’s here. He’s standing above me. People are turning and laughing. Don’t look up. Don’t. Look. Up.
Crap. I looked up.
He’s looking down at me. Am I supposed to respond? What did he just say anyway?
For God’s sake, breathe. This is not the end of the world. You’re being brave remember. No one is judging you, they are just enjoying his performance. You should too. Suck it up. Be in the present. Enjoy the moment.
Wait. Where’s he going? That’s it?
Well that wasn’t so bad.
And that quickly it was over. The entire experience lasted less than ten seconds. I survived. I have dreaded being chosen for seventeen years, more often than not turning down invitations to go because of it. And here it wasn’t so bad. In fact, the fear I’ve had of it for this many years was way worse than the actual experience. What a bunch of wasted time worrying.
And isn’t that the thing about fear?
Often my feelings of fear leading up to a moment are worse than the actual experience I fear. It does make me wonder if I’m missing out. What if I just embraced the anxious feelings and faced my fears? What if I stopped letting fear push me around? What might I experience that I would otherwise miss out on? Where would my life lead me?
It’s really just a small shift in thought, a change in internal dialogue, to conquer fear. But could that small shift alter this journey from one I’m reluctantly on to free myself from things that bind me to one of expectation and anticipation? By deliberately turning to face fear, can I remove its power?
Can I transform from a victim of fear to a warrior against the power of fear?
Because I find I love that image.
A warrior against fear wouldn’t be pushed around by public speaking, groups of smart women, hard conversations, failure, risks, rejection, audience participation, or grasshoppers. (Yes, grasshoppers. Ironically the smallest item on the list is my largest fear.) Because she would always have a greater purpose: to defeat the fear that keeps me from achieving big things, trying new things, or experiencing the fullness of life while I’m alive to live it.
She would fight to free me so I can be the best version of me.
And as I think it, write it, read it, I realize she’s been in me all along. In this moment it’s as if I’ve finally turned and noticed her waiting in the wings ready to spring into action. In fact, I suspect it’s this little warrior me who prompted me to write this blog in the first place. Perhaps it’s her first act to remove the power of fear from my life.
Now that I know she’s there, now that I’m setting her free to battle fear, who knows what will happen? Maybe the next time you’re at the Brewery Follies you’ll see me eagerly awaiting the start of the show from the very front row.