This year I committed to doing scary shit. Now, let’s take a moment to clarify what that means: When I say “scary”, I mean things that feel out my reach or out of my comfort zone. That is vastly different than doing STUPID shit that could cause me bodily harm. Big difference. Big.
Learning a new skill: Scary. Eating a Tide Pod: Stupid. Get it?
Also, I don’t like the feeling of being scared in a haunted house or watching a scary movie, so I’m not doing those things just to say that I did them when that does not make me feel like I actually accomplished anything.
Please keep in mind that what feels scary to one person may seem like a breeze to someone else. Something I did this year may be something you have been doing since you were young or just may be something that does not seem all that frightening to you. That said, there is likely something you are afraid to do that I have done before or someone else finds easy. This is a judgment free blog (unless you are considering eating a Tide Pod, in which case I am totally judging you).
I took a monologue class earlier this year at Acting Studio Chicago. The premise of the class was that the instructor would choose two monologues based on your strengths and then I could choose if the third would be comedic, dramatic, or Shakespearean. I worked for weeks on my first two monologues and then came the day to let Kurt know what kind of piece I wanted for my third monologue. One voice in my head was yelling, “Choose a funny piece! You’re funny! That is comfortable!” The other voice said, “Choose a dramatic piece….that is hard…that is scary. Do the scary thing.” You may think I chose the dramatic piece. Nope. A tiny voice in the deep – DEEP – recesses of my brain cleared its throat and said, “Scary? You want scary? You have never read Shakespeare. You don’t understand Shakespeare. You don’t particularly like Shakespeare. Choose the Shakespeare.”
I chose Shakespeare.
The first time I read through the monologue (the Duchess in Henry VI Part II), I had no clue what it was about or how to read it with the correct rhythm. What does “Iambic Pentameter” even mean? I figured if I was destined to suck at
Shakespeare, at least I would have taken the chance to learn it in a safe space where being brave was both encouraged and expected. I enlisted the help of my friend, Melanie, who is a Shakespeare guru and my general go-to for all things theater related. She helped me dissect the piece, understand what I was actually saying, and learn the general cadence of the speech. She also gave me important pointers like not to use an English accent and no big, weird Shakespearean voice. The first time I did the monologue for my class, I was TERRIFIED. Kurt gave me direction and helped me to see that I could play with Shakespeare the same way I would a contemporary monologue. In the end, I truly enjoyed learning the piece and wasn’t even terrible at it. The follow-up scary goal is to use it at an audition. There…I said it out loud (wrote it out loud?).
First scary thing done…check.
Next was a physically scary endeavor (not like free soloing a mountain side where the only outcomes are success or death, because, again, scary not stupid). A friend suggested we sign up for a race. I suggested a 10K. She suggested a half marathon. Shit. We signed up for the Wonder Woman Half and searched on line for training programs that required running no more than three days a week. Look, I get it, there are people that get up at 4am to run ten miles everyday. I am NOT that person. Until signing up for the half, I had never run more than a few miles at a time (well, that’s a lie…about a year and a half earlier, I had run seven miles and chalked it up an acute lapse in judgment). I spent the next four months training, with the help of friends, and then in June my friend Mara and I ran the half. Not only did I run it, but I even beat my goal of finishing in under 2 hours and 20 minutes. I completed the half in 2 hours, 12 minutes, and 27 seconds. Never in a million years did I think I could ever run a half marathon. I did it.
I started to think maybe there was something to this “push out of your comfort zone” thing. So, on to more scary shit! Being an actor and a singer, I have always pegged myself as a “non-dancer.” On a good day, I would consider myself a mover, but it has always been deeply engrained in my head that I am NOT a dancer. A choreographer and dance teacher I know was offering an adult ballet class for all levels of experience. All levels? How could I possibly be in a class with people who were experienced ballet dancers? They would laugh at me. They would feel frustrated that I was holding them back. They would think I was ridiculous for thinking I could start learning ballet now. The teacher told me it would be okay and said I should try the class.
I showed up (after texting numerous times to confirm it was acceptable to wear workout clothes) and was given the choice of paying for one class or a four pack. I knew if I paid for only one class, there was a definite possibility of never returning, so I took a deep breath and agreed to purchase a four pack. I figured after four classes I would have an idea of whether or not I wanted to continue. I felt a small sense of accomplishment for knowing that I should not let myself have a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. Sometimes the smallest actions feel the bravest.
Well, as you may suspect, the first ballet class was AMAZING. Wait, what? Nope…the first ballet class was maybe the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life (keep in mind I have birthed three human beings). I have never tried to think about so many things at once, while using muscles I never knew existed, and trying not to compare myself to other women in the class. The barre gave me a sense of support and I gripped it for all it was worth (STILL working on releasing the death grip from the barre. Spoiler: that means I am STILL taking ballet seven months later). Jen told me I had beautiful turnout (which my podiatrist calls terrible pronation, but you know, one woman’s trash is another woman’s treasure). After barre work we moved to the center of the room. Suddenly, every voice I have ever had telling me I am not a dancer started yelling in my ear. Every bit of anxiety I have ever felt at a dance call, struggling to remember choreography, started clawing its way up my throat.
DO. NOT. CRY. Do not cry. Do not cry.
I spent the rest of the class desperately trying to hold back the tears and feeling ridiculous, as I struggled to follow along with the steps. I got in my car after class and sobbed all the way home. I felt overwhelmed. I felt scared. I felt sad. I felt stupid.
You know what I did? I went back the next week and I cried after class. I went back the week after that and I cried after class. Around week six, Jen asked if I could see the progress I had made from just six weeks earlier. I said, well, I didn’t cry today and that feels like a lot of progress. And now, seven months later, I still go to ballet class every Friday (and I totally don’t cry anymore). With each passing week, I am getting stronger and more confident. I understand a lot of the vocabulary and there are moments when I feel like what I am doing looks quite lovely. Many other moments I still feel like an uncoordinated duck, but instead of crying, I can laugh and remind myself that this is still new for me. I even lay in bed working on pointing my feet correctly (stupid sickling…gets me all the time). I will never be a ballerina, but that is not the goal. I look forward to my class every week and sincerely believe that I am stronger – physically and mentally – for facing this fear.
Lucky for you, as this blog post is reading more like a novel, I already wrote an entire blog entry about my last big, scary undertaking. I ventured into the stand-up comedy scene after a friend of mine put in my path. I was so petrified at my first open mic, I thought I was going to vomit. After hearing fifteen men in their mid-twenties
talk about their genitalia, I felt more confident. I mean, how bad could I be? There was a different thrill about being on a stage and sharing my own stories with the audience. I attended one open mic a week for about six weeks before performing in my friend’s show with a ten minute set. I would not pursue comedy instead of theater, but I will absolutely do more open mics and comedy shows moving forward. Again, it is amazing what lies just outside of your comfort zone. For more detailed info on the background of starting standup, please refer back to my last blog post.
There is still plenty of time in 2019 for more scary shit to make itself known. I do not know what it will be. I may succeed. I may cry. I may want to give up. Regardless, I will learn from trying something new; I will grow from expanding my horizons; I will cross paths with fabulously interesting people; I will change for the good. I invite you to ask yourself when the last time was that you truly pushed out of your comfort zone. During my workouts, my trainer says, “Work through the burn…that’s when the change happens.” That George – so wise. Work through the burn. Do scary shit.