What Are You Afraid Of?
When I was 10 years old, my mom enrolled me in formal swimming lessons. Up until that time, I had always loved the water and was a bit of a fish, but now it was time for me to learn the proper way to swim.
The lessons lasted about 4 weeks and soon after that, the head instructor came to my parents and asked them if he could put me on the swim team. By the end of that summer, I was the regional conference champion in backstroke, and by age 12 I was training for the Olympics.
For the next 7 years, I set swimming records and remained the regional backstroke champion. No one could beat me. Then, at the age of 18 (my last year of eligibility on this particular swim team), as we were driving to the final conference championship, a single thought crossed my mind that had never crossed it before: “What if I lose?”
For 8 years straight I had won this event. And in those 8 years I had never even considered the possibility of losing this race. Now, however, I found myself thinking about the fact that this was my last year on this team; I started getting sad about that fact, and I started thinking about how I would feel if I lost
It wasn’t a good feeling and I did my best to shake it, as I swam the other 2 individual events in which I was entered (50 yard Butterfly and 100 yard Individual Medley). Then it came time for MY RACE, the 50 yard Backstroke. We got in the pool, the gun went off and the race was on. The first 45 yards of the race were fine, but as I took my final three strokes, the thought of losing once again crossed my mind, and sure enough, my mind took hold of that fear and I lost the race by .01 seconds. Unbelievable!
I think I may have won a couple of other events (I was entered in 5 altogether), but honestly, as far as I was concerned, this was the ONLY race that mattered. And after 8 straight years of being the best swimmer in this event, all it took was one moment of fear, and I now found myself in the spot of “second best.” I was crushed.
The power that fear can have over us can be enormous, if we let it be. The key, however, is that it can only have the amount of power that we give to it. If we give it a lot of power, it can keep us frozen and prevent us from moving forward.
On the other hand, if we acknowledge it, but don’t allow ourselves to dwell on it, and instead choose to continue moving steadily forward, we can get past the fear.
There’s no question about the fact that pursuing an acting career is a scary concept. As actors, some of the fears we face include: being too old; not being good enough; not knowing where to start in pursuing our career; not having an agent; not getting the job; not living in LA or NY in order to pursue a career; blowing the audition; not knowing where to take class; not succeeding; not becoming famous, and the list goes on and on and on.
So, how does you get past the fear? The first step is to acknowledge it, because you can’t deal with it until you actually acknowledge that it’s present.
Secondly, you list it, in order to know exactly what it is. Auditions? Money? Lack of representation? Make a list so you know exactly how many fears, and what fears, you’re dealing with.
Next, you name. That’s right – give each one of your fears a personal name, so that every time it rears its ugly head, you can call it by name. Afraid of not being good enough when you audition for something? Call it George, so that when you’re on an audition and that fear comes up, you can say something like: “Oh, that’s just George, stopping by to say Hello. Hi George! Bye George.”
And finally, create a phrase or mantra for yourself (mine is “Cancel That”) so that anytime you feel fear coming on, you can continue to tell yourself to “cancel that” (or whatever your mantra is), until the fear goes away. It may take 50 times of saying your mantra, but eventually it WILL go away, and as time goes on, it will begin to get easier and easier to eliminate the fearful thoughts that cross your mind.
Dealing with fear will take some work on your part. And while it won’t happen overnight, you CAN find a way to start taking control of your fears and letting them go. You can do this. I know you can. So start today and let me know how it goes!
P.S. Although I made the decision to quit training for the Olympics at age 14, I absolutely love watching the Olympic Swimming Trials on TV this week. Go Natalie Coughlin!
Editor: Manohar Khushalani
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