My Frenemy Can’tye West

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’re probably aware by this point that I’m a textbook emetophobe. Like, a mind-over-matter, do-anything-not-to-puke-and-to-avoid-potentially-vomitous-situations, catch-a-virus-and-magically-not-barf-while-other-people-in-household-barf-repeatedly-with-same-virus kinda gal. It’s pretty much my biggest fear. But this doesn’t mean that I don’t have other fears. And I would love to share one particularly strong fear that I have with you today. Yay, talking about stupid things we fear! Almost as fun as reading about someone’s dream that makes no sense or like, listening to your great uncle’s war stories when you’re hungry or something.

SO…there’s this part of my brain, often a very annoying, interrupty part, let’s call him Can’tye West, that likes to chime in when I’m thinking of trying something or ‘going for it’ with an idea I have, that says things like “psst…hey Lesley. I know you’re excited right now, and I’mma let you finish, but you are actually secretly terrible at this and nobody’s going to have the heart to tell you for the rest of all time.”

Damnit, Can’tye! You. Are. DESTROYING me. Put down your autotuner and GTFO of my brain, already!

He perpetuates this fear….that in pretty much ANYTHING I do, that I am like William Hung from American Idol. That I like, think I’m good at something but in reality I’m really terrible and nobody else has the heart to honestly tell me until I get myself to a point where I feel more confident and ready to really put myself out there and then someone is going to go all Simon Cowell on me and tell me I sound like a dying cat*

*metaphorically speaking, applied to whatever it is I’m doing, sound involved or not

Can’tye paralyzes me. He makes me second guess anything I publicly share.

He makes me too nervous to sing or play piano at parties.

He makes me hesitant to tell people I’m an artist and break out in a chest rash/avoid eye contact when prodded for more information.

He makes me wince or immediately shrug off any form of praise from people I’m close to.

If I get a compliment from someone I don’t know or someone that pulls weight in the industry I’m in, I feel a bit more flattered. But unless someone’s whipping out their wallet or being like “sure hold on one second…hey Lesley? Yeah I have Oprah on the phone for you, she wants to buy all your artwork and produce your musicals and get you a book de- oh hold on….hello? Oh sure one sec! Hey Lesley Ford Models says they were on the fence about the negotiations but the two-year contract with Burberry sounds great, and we’ll just make sure it’s nonexclusive so you can still work with IMG. Can you do lunch with Coco Rocha next week? Oh and I almost forgot to tell you Penguin says your children’s book will be back from the printer’s tomorrow and we can go over the Barnes & Noble contract and look into embossing the covers with the Caldecott Medal” I’m like, rocking away in a mental corner hearing “She bangs! She bangs!” in William’s signature timbre.

I know I have weird ‘musical superpowers’. I know my artwork isn’t terrible or else it wouldn’t sell. I know I can put coherent sentences together with enough je-ne-sais-quoi to keep …well, at least 19 people mildly interested at the moment.

But…Can’tye is all “well if you were actually good you’d have/be/have done/made/created this this and THIS by now. People say nice things ’cause they don’t have the heart to hurt your feelings or burst your bubble. They like you and want you to feel happy and don’t want you to hate them for being the one to tell you to give up on this already. Also, I’m banging Kim Kardashian.”

I’m not really sure why I automatically pin myself as the amateur instead of the pro. I’m pro, gash dearnit! (like the Minnesotan accent I typed just then?)

I have an inner sense that what I do is professional, high quality, and marketable, and smart. It just never feels like ‘enough’ of any of those things for me to feel confident enough to go out into the world and be like “yeah I’m effing awesome!”┬ábecause I’ve seen first-hand other people who truly truly feel that without a doubt their offerings are super professional, marketable, talented, whatever word you’d like to use here…and I wince. I don’t want to be their Can’tye West. I see them seemingly throw up their arms (ack I typed throw up! lolz) and say “I don’t know why this isn’t working!” or more defensive things like “well, their loss!” “whatever, they just don’t know talent when they see it” etc. with a bunch of support from friends/family coaxing them on. It’s painful. And I hop on the paranoid express to Crazytown stewing that I’m the same way, even though I have repeated evidence that I’m not.

So how to ditch this self-defeating rapper in the ridiculous shades? Golly who knows, really? I’ve read more ‘inspirational’ material than I feel comfortable admitting, on productivity, profiting as an artist, overcoming fear and self-doubt, being a lightworker and whatever else, searching for some external validation that yes, I am capable. Yes, I can do this. Yes, my offerings to this world are not only totally amazing, but needed and wanted. Yet this voice still haunts me. And that’s probably the key- searching externally instead of changing internally (though lord knows I am trying that too).

I don’t want to be the delusional pie-in-the-sky dreamer who gets deflated by a British guy in a tight gray tee shirt. But I’m also kinda sick of Can’tye’s ego blasting through my mental speakers. Unplug that microphone, dude! You are not that cool!

So yeah. If my stuff is hopeless/crappy/embarrassing/whatever, it truly is my own problem blah blah blah BUT I really hope that someone will have the heart to tell me if I’m metaphorically tonedeaf, someone who’s not living in between my ears deflating my would-be artsy swag. Swart? Ew. Nope that didn’t work. Just encourage me where encouragement is due, but don’t patronize. Pretty please!

Does anyone else have extreme patronization paranoia?

Stage Fright = Fear of Vulnerability + Fear of Failure + Fear of Success

There’s only one person in my life that I know who doesn’t get stage fright, and that person is my musical writing partner, Andrew.

Aww, here we are at the public premiere of our Tortoise and Hare musical!

He is an amazing, curious, adventurous, wild, beautiful creature who is himself at all times, in all situations, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen him get nervous about anything.

He does not get stage fright.

Marveling at this superpower, I have asked him on more than one occasion how he can’t get nervous; how he doesn’t ever worry what others might think or feel embarrassed about anything. I can’t fathom it.

With equal fascination, he has asked me what anxiety feels like. He is in awe of this foreign concept of self-consciousness and self-doubt. The only times the boy sweats are when it’s 90 degrees out or when he’s singing at the top of his lungs, doing perfect pirouettes in his kitchen (having never had formal dance training, no less).

So when I look at who Andrew is, it helps to illuminate what stage fright really is, because it’s everything he isn’t. And of course I’m gonna be all philosophical and extend this not just to literal stage fright in the performing arts sense, but life-stage fright – the fear we feel when approaching the next stage of our journeys in life.

Stage fright means being afraid of being vulnerable.

Vulnerability terrifies most of us because we face judgment, good or bad. It gives other people the opportunity to form opinions of us that we have no control over, and the ultimate root of all fears is the loss of control in some way.

Stage fright is being afraid of failure.

The fear of failure circles right back to the fear of other people’s judgment and loss of control. Oh how embarrassed we’d be if our voice cracked during our solo and everybody heard it. Surely that’s all they’d remember from the performance and talk about it for years, laughing at us at their dinner tables with us completely unaware. But even if that really happened, it wouldn’t truly affect us unless we let it, because we don’t have control over other people’s thoughts, we only have control over how we deal with our own.

Stage fright is the fear of success.

It seems odd, but the fear of success is pretty huge. It’s just cleverly masked by the fear of failure because failure speaks in a clearer, louder voice with nice short words like can’t, fall, die, sick, shame.

What if we do better than we expected and a lot of people take notice? Then won’t we feel kind of exposed? Will there be expectations placed upon us that will make us feel boxed in? What would we do if we suddenly became more successful than we thought we were capable of being? Would our friends turn on us, or would we have trouble discerning who our true friends really are? Would we change? It’s all so unknown, ahh fear of loss of control again, ahh! etc. Better to stay safe and not push our boundaries, then we can’t fail OR succeed — we’ll just stay as we are. Unhappy.

But Andrew? Andrew is not afraid of being vulnerable. He’s not afraid of failing. And he’s not afraid of succeeding. He just is himself, living his life. And he has the same level of self-ness whether he’s eating a peanut butter sandwich or singing at Lincoln Center. To say nothing phases him would be an understatement. But I think that may be the very way that he combats anxiety and stage fright – his attitude is that he doesn’t even know what it is. If he doesn’t acknowledge he’s capable of feeling it or even knowing what it feels like, does it then even exist or stand a chance of existing in his world? …Hmmmm!

As for me? I’ve got stage fright, but I’m working on it.

I have always been the one other people need to calm down backstage, whether I’ve been in an ensemble, a lead in a musical, or playing the piano as an accompanist.

I’ve focused on the bad what-ifs. What if I forget the words? What if I get sick in the middle of a show and have to run off-stage to go to the bathroom? What if I get low blood-sugar during a song and there’s no opportunity for me to stop and take a swig of gatorade and I start shaking and feeling faint? What if I play something in the wrong key and screw up the singers? What if the monitor speaker stops working and I can’t hear what I’m playing? What if I say the wrong lines? What if I totally forget my line entirely and everybody notices? What if I miss my cue completely for a whole scene?

Guess what… every single one of these things has happened to me. And they were terrifying, but I survived them just fine actually. It really was no big deal to anyone but me.

Yet I find, even though I’ve survived all of that, that I still live in fear. I fear other people’s judgment, or I fear failure, or, oddly, success.

How can we overcome stage fright in life?

If I look back at Andrew again, I notice not only his comfort with himself and his brilliant creative energy, but also a true attunement with his inner child.

He and I have bonded majorly over our shared sense of wonder about life, our fascination and love for the planet and bottomless pit of curiosity about everything and anything. Children aren’t innately self-conscious. They don’t spend their time with what-ifs and worries (well…some do. I did, haha. But if you go back early enough, it’s not there.)

Just today I was coming back from a run and a little girl, I’m guessing about 3, was getting buckled into her car seat and raised her hand up and shouted “Hi!…Hiiii!….Hiiiiiii!” to me. She wasn’t afraid to say hi to a stranger. She didn’t care what she looked like or how her voice sounded, and didn’t worry I might not say hi back and let that stop her from trying or be timid. She said hi. And I said hi back, and that made her day better, and it made mine better too.

What would happen if we dug back into our Selves and reached out our hands to our inner children and let them lead us around for a day? What would they do or say that we’ve let our adult superficial selves cover up or hide with the imaginary wall we’ve built up tiled by the fears of what other people will think? I have yet to figure out how to fully break that wall down, but I am all about trying to figure it out. I’m tired of hiding and being afraid. I want to be that little girl saying hi to the universe, and keep saying it until it says it back.

How do you conquer your stage fright?