I’m taking another week off from my planned subjects to dash off a quick update on my “journey” (which is the central topic of this blog, after all). Back to regularly scheduled musings next week.
Every person has at least one thing (usually more) that they find intimidating or difficult. I have plenty such things, though fewer as I grow older.
Driving has haunted me for most of my adult life. Over the past few years I’ve had to drive more than ever, so my fear has subsided considerably. But I used to panic whenever I got lost: One wrong turn, and I would break out in a cold sweat. And forget about merging into traffic on a big highway—I might as well be jumping out of a plane! Most people probably can’t relate to this level of anxiety around driving, while others know exactly what I’m talking about.
When I was a kid, I was very shy. The idea of reading a report in front of class or even ordering a hamburger at McDonald’s freaked me out. When I got to college, I pushed myself to take a speech class. Turns out I really liked it, so I started taking drama classes. By senior year, I was earning a minor in speech and drama and acting in that year’s school play. I don’t think I was a very good, but I enjoyed it, and I was proud of myself for taking on the challenge.
Part of my current journey includes doing more things that scare me—stuff I might normally put off or avoid altogether. I’m in search of a life less comfortable and predictable.
So, when I learned that a festival for fans of the Big Green Egg grill would be happening not far from where we live this month, I decided my husband and I should go and cook at the event. We bought our Big Green Egg at one of these festivals where a friend of ours grilled. At the time, I never imagined that we would eventually want to cook at one ourselves.
To some of you, grilling at a festival alongside other amateur cooks might not sound like a big deal. For me, this challenge was the perfect ratio of “really want to do it” to “kinda terrified of doing it.”
Not long after we arrived at the “Eggs on the Chesapeake” fest it became obvious that we were the newbies there. The people next to us, who had decorated their booth as if it were a charming little shop, stepped in and helped us with a few things, like taping our tablecloth to the table so it wouldn’t blow away and loaning me disposable gloves for working with raw meat in public.
We ran out of plates, and we really should have brought napkins and forks for the tasters. We were a little awkward sometimes, and ideas for efficiency came to us late in the day. But we brought the perfect amount of food, and people seemed to like what we made. It was sort of like being on an episode of Top Chef, except I’m pretty sure we would’ve been in the bottom three. I don’t think Padma would have kicked us off, though. Our food was good, it was just the presentation that was lacking.
While we did not place among the top three cooks that day, we did get a fair amount of tokens dropped in our bowl from people who appreciated our food. I’m happy to report that it was a great experience: We talked to strangers about our food and shared tips about grilling tools and methods. I even presented a new recipe of my own, which several people asked for.
Yep, we did something new and learned a lot in the process. And I’m pretty sure we’ll do it again. I don’t think we’re ready for one of the larger festivals just yet, but maybe after we get a couple more small ones under our belts.
What did I do to get past this and other fears? I think I’ve narrowed it down to two key strategies.
First, don’t delay—just jump in there. If it makes you feel better, allow yourself one short set amount of procrastination time, and that’s it. With the Eggfest, I checked out the event website on a Saturday and saw that there was one slot left to cook. I was nervous and wanted to talk it over with my husband and give him some time to warm up to the idea. So I told myself I would go back to the website Sunday morning, and if the spot was still available, I would sign up immediately. I did, it was, and I did!
Also, for things that are really scaring the bejeesus out of you, try thinking through the worst things that could go wrong and how you would deal with those outcomes. When my husband and I bought our house four years ago, we had a moment of sheer panic about halfway through the process. We still had to sell our townhouse, and what if we couldn’t find a buyer? We sat down and slowly went through some of the worst case scenarios. We decided that as awful as they sounded, they wouldn’t be the end of the world. We could handle them, and having a plan gave us permission to take the risk.
An upcoming challenge that I might take on is speaking at a storytelling open mic night. The idea came from the Magic Lessons podcast, and I’m seriously considering it. I’ve already started writing the piece. But when the time comes, will I be able to get up there and read it in front of a crowd? What horrifying things could happen if I did? Well, my mouth might completely dry up, then my throat could close up, and I could have a coughing attack and have to flee the stage. I swear something like this happened once during a rehearsal in a drama class at college.
Or, the audience could be totally indifferent to my piece—they could whisper to each other and stare at their phones. When I’m done, they could applaud politely but with zero enthusiasm.
These results are entirely possible. But if they take place, I will have at least gotten up there and tried my best. And I will survive. In fact, if I pay attention to the other storytellers and the audience reactions, I should be able to learn something that could help me in the future. That is, if I dare to do it once and then again.
Reading Brené Brown is always inspiring when I’m feeling small and afraid, so I plan to turn to her before taking on this next challenge. As Brown says: “You can’t get to courage without walking through vulnerability.”
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