Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fearful / Fearless

A few nights ago, I had the opportunity to talk to some old friends whom I hadn't talked to in over 20 years. Lately I've been able to connect with folks who knew me at a different time, in a different circumstance. Perhaps even a different person.

In our chat, one of my friends and I were catching up, and she asked if had been doing any theater lately. When we had last seen each other, I ate, slept and breathed theater. Performing, creating, working onstage and backstage. I told her it had been 15 years since the last time I performed, and that I had been dealing with an issue of confidence. She told me that she couldn't believe it. She remembered me as fearless.

She didn't know it when she said it, but that one statement hurt. She had no way of knowing. But it hurt because she was right. There was a time when I was fearless. There was a time when nothing was impossible, where there was no hurdle that couldn't be jumped, no problem that couldn't be solved. There was a time when I reveled in performance, in doing what others found terrifying. Now is not that time.

We had a nice conversation, and discussed getting a bunch of us together for a reunion. But as I hung up, I felt shaken up. I had felt the difference, but hadn't put it into words. And a voice from 30 years ago said it - I used to be fearless. Now, I am fearful.

I asked someone else who knew me back then, "Would you have described me as fearless?". The answer "Yes".

How did I get from fearless to fearful?

The answer is not a simple one. Part of it was a conscious decision. To become "responsible", to put someone else's needs and desires ahead of my own. Part was unconscious, born out of years of taking care of someone who did not have the tools to take care of themselves, of being so vigilant of their condition that my own was a distant second. But none of this should have made me fearful, should it?

Some of it was the pain of losing. The pain of losing my first love. Of losing my second. The pain of losing a home, and a dream. And yet, those still did not steal it from me.

No, the most impactful thing was a phrase uttered by someone who was angry and was trying to hurt me. That one phrase shattered the confidence that I had, bringing my confidence to a low I had never before experienced.

What all the other things, the other experiences could not do, that one angry utterance accomplished. How did that one phrase, that one "blurt" cause such a shift? Because it came from someone that mattered.

I have run a triathlon. I have re-created orchestrations for musicals from scratch. I have lived on a boat. I have edited a magazine, spoken in front of a stadium full of people, been interviewed as an industry expert on MSNBC, local tv and radio. And now, I have trouble simply singing in front of my girlfriend.

I used to look at any challenge life presented and thought "So what?" and found a way around/over/through the obstacle. I built a solution if one wasn't there. Now, it's easier to think of why it can't be done. Now, it is easier to be fearful.

When I got off the phone the other night, I was truly shaken. And Melissa asked me why I was now fearful instead of fearless. And I couldn't answer why. Because there are truly many answers, but none of them good ones. Why do we allow the little things that people say destroy that which is strong in us? Why do their words carry such weight?

I suppose the first step is to decide that they won't affect us any longer. Easier said than done, I fear. When you're fearless, not achieving your goal the first try is ok - you know you'll get there. When you have allowed the fear to creep in, it's diametrically opposite - you can't see how you can possibly get there.

So what do I do?

My first step is to start trying to think what I would do if I was fearless.

And one thing I hope will help is reconnecting with those old friends who knew me in my fearless days. Perhaps their memories of me, their collective energy can re-spark that powerful guy that I once was - with perhaps a bit more wisdom of life to guide him.