My little 5 year old has brought up several times how nervous he is for his first gymnastics lesson tomorrow. Yesterday I sat him on my lap and we talked about it. “That’s a normal feeling,” I told him. “Everyone feels nervous when they try new things!” We talked about how many new things he’s tried that he felt nervous about, and how glad we both are that he didn’t let fear stop him. In fact, one of my favorite quotes says, “Courage doesn’t mean you don’t get afraid. Courage means you don’t let fear stop you!” (Unfortunately, I don’t know who to credit the quote to!)
Fear is such a funny thing, isn’t it? There was one day this year that should have been the scariest: the one where we thought my husband was having a heart attack. But the crazy thing is that I functioned in a very peaceful place as we did what had to be done (get a barf bowl in case he threw up in the car, called a friend to watch the kids, and ran to the hospital where they could assess the chest pains). I felt comforted, knowing that a loving Father in Heaven was watching over us and it would be okay, no matter what.
You want to know something really silly? The scariest moments this year were the ones where there was no real imminent danger, like sitting down at the piano and wondering (cue the fear) if I could make up anything original. What a 1st world problem! It feels so trivial, and yet telling myself doesn’t make the emotion any less real.
Last week my husband and I enjoyed a wonderful getaway (more on that another day!), and while we were gone I discovered a really interesting book by Kenny Werner entitled “Effortless Mastery.” His overall discussion centered on the idea that when we focus on playing an instrument really well, we freeze up and usually perform poorly. When we let go of expectation (which he said is driven by fear) and allow ourselves to embrace whatever it is that we are playing, we free ourselves up to create something really beautiful.
Here is an interesting quote from his book: “Nothing is so inhibiting as needing to write something brilliant. Once a good friend of mine was writing an opera and really experiencing a block. He was duly tormented, believing that ‘composing is a painful process.’ He talked wistfully about a certain opera as being considered ‘the greatest opera since World War Two.’ I told him, ‘It sounds to me like you are trying to write the greatest opera since Desert Storm! I have an idea. Why don’t you just write a bad opera? That should be easy.’
My friend laughed uncomfortably with me, but I could sympathize with his dilemma. You always want to do well, but the recurring paradox is that you have a much better chance of doing well if you let go of the anxiety and just get on with it. Try writing three bad pieces a day. I bet you can’t do it. Your talent will sabotage you and cause some great music to come out! Another composer-friend of mine told me, ‘Kenny, I know that that just doesn’t work. I’ve written a ton of bad pieces over the last thirty years, and it hasn’t done anything for me.’ I said to him, ‘Ah yes, but did you ever try to write a bad piece? That is the liberation that I’m talking about!'”
Ha! Such a simple idea and yet brilliant because it allows me to “get out of my own way.” I find that two questions can also help me bypass that anxious feeling when I sit down to compose. I can ask myself, “What am I afraid of?” This can provide the same reassurance that a child receives when he is afraid of the the dark at bedtime: a parent flips on the light to show the child that the shadows were only an illusion and there is really nothing to be afraid of.
The second question is, “What do I love about composing?” There is a verse in the Bible (1 John 4:18) that states, “Perfect love casteth out fear.” I have always figured that verse had to do with relationships, or at least that is the only way I have ever applied it. But the funny thing that I’m learning is that love and fear can’t really coexist in myself- there is not really room for both! When I flip the switch to what I love, it seems to push out the fear and redirect my mind to focus on the good. Hmmm. A good thought to keep in my back pocket!
So I guess the question isn’t so much “who feels fear”, but “what do you do so that fear doesn’t stop you?”
What do you think?