Escaping the Echo Chamber
People enter college at all different phases of life. Some people walk in on their first day, ready to tell you their thirty year plan. Others have no idea what they want to do, and come in ready to explore all of their options. Neither of these approaches to school are incorrect, and one is not better than the other. No matter what your perspective is though, college is a time to explore new perspectives, develop your beliefs, and begin to solidify your values.
That said, it can be easy to go into college thinking that you have it all figured out (I am Exhibit A). You may think that your beliefs are set in stone, planted by your upbringing and grown through your resolve. With this kind of a closed mindset, people are likely to seek out individuals and groups that reinforce their preexisting beliefs to provide a sense of security in those values. This kind of thinking, however, is unproductive.
When we engage only with people and groups with which we agree, we lose valuable opportunities for personal and professional growth. These situations create "echo chambers" where we, surrounded by beliefs that mirror our own, can gain a sense of false comfort and feel validated in our positions. These groups encourage us to dig our heels into the ground, state our case, and refuse to waver.
This is exactly what I did when I got to school. A proud GOP member, I immediately enlisted in all of the conservative groups I could find, shunning those that I felt did not agree with my values. As the year went on though, I found myself becoming more radical. I began to question what it was I truly believed in, to question my motives for putting myself in the spaces I had chosen to occupy. This questioning only began though when I was challenged for the first time by a fellow student in the dining hall, who introduced me to the concept of unaffiliated centrism and directed me to an organization that supported moderate, independent political candidates for state and federal offices. Though I still consider myself conservative leaning, I left the College Republicans shortly after that conversation. Today, I am part of a national movement of centrist voters aimed at encouraging nonpartisan cooperation in government. None of this would have been possible had that conversation never occurred.
To break out of your own echo chamber, it is crucial to adopt a growth mindset. Carol Dweck, who coined the term, writes that with a growth mindset "people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment." Adopting this attitude in college will allow you to deal with cognitive dissonance and ideological diversity in a way that is productive, rather than paralyzing.
You can begin to embrace this mindset by actively seeking out groups with which you disagree. Are you a staunch Republican? Try attending a meeting led by the College Democrats to better understand their viewpoints. Maybe you are vehemently pro-choice. Start a dialogue with pro-life students on campus, rather than condemning them.
At Harvard, I serve as the Treasurer of the Network of Enlightened Women, an organization for conservative women to come together on campus. Earlier this year, we hosted conservative commentators Mary Katharine Ham and Guy Benson for a meeting with our group. Several left-leaning women attended the event, and they posed some of the most insightful questions I had heard. After the panel discussion was over, we were able to sit and talk with one another, and several of them commented that their perceptions of our organization and of conservative women in general had been altered just by attending that meeting.
When you go out of your way to seek out constructive disagreement, you will be better prepared to deal with it in "real life." You may even find yourself beginning to change your mind. Hearing opposing viewpoints allows you to question your beliefs, change your mind, or build on your current values.
No matter how you approach constructive disagreement, you will be better off for it. What do you have to lose by hearing from those who are different from you?
America's strength is in its diversity. If we avoid that diversity rather than embracing it, we do a disservice to ourselves, as well as to society at large. Imagine the amount of relationships you might miss out on by limiting your connections to only those people with which you agree. Learning to see beyond ideological differences to recognize the value in another person is part of being a member of a democratic society. What better place to start than college?
Whether you are in your first year of school or getting ready to graduate, chances are you have some kind of adviser. Advisers can be invaluable points of contact for students, regardless of the level at which you are studying. Building strong relationships with your adviser can help you make the most of your college experience by introducing you to new opportunities and receiving academic guidance. Learning how to seek out help is one of college's most important lessons, but taking the first step to talk to your adviser can feel intimidating. Use these 15 tips to make the most our of your advising experience!
1. Introduce yourself as soon as you get to school. I know that during your first week back at school, the last thing you want to be doing is tracking down advisers to introduce yourself, but making a connection early sets a positive tone for your entire relationship. It shows a sense of initiative that your adviser will appreciate, especially if they are dealing with dozens of other students.
2. Go to your first meeting prepared with some questions. All advisers are different. My first-year academic adviser loved to talk and have deep, engaging conversations with me, but some of my friends had advisers that seemed like they preferred more professional conversations. Going into your first meeting with a few prepared questions will help you feel confident, while also mitigating the risk of awkward silences.
3. NO QUESTION IS A DUMB QUESTION. Yes, you've heard this saying a million times, but it really applies to dealing with advisers. Keep in mind that they exist professionally to answer your questions. No matter how "dumb" you feel like your question may be, ask it! It is probably more important than you realize, and trust me, advisers have heard it all.
4. To that end, ask the right questions. Asking your academic adviser about the weekend scene at your university right off the bat may not be the best idea. Start with questions you have about classes at school. Which classes will help you fulfill general education requirements? What courses are good introductory classes for your chosen field? Are there any electives your adviser recommends? My first year adviser was the director of the Sociology Department. I had never taken sociology in my life, but I took a course on Media and Pop Culture at her recommendation, and it ended up being one of the most fun classes I had ever taken. Check out our full list of sample questions below!
5. Ask two questions: "What is your favorite aspect of (X university)?" and "What is your least favorite?" Their answers to these questions may surprise you, but I have always found them to be worth asking. Not only do they give you slightly more insight into your chosen school, but they also reveal something about your adviser's priorities, which could help you begin to build a relationship with them.
6. Talk over your schedule with your adviser. Even if they don't ask you to show them your schedule, you should make the initiative to talk it over. I can vividly remember my adviser talking me out of adding an additional class that would have given me a crippling workload second semester, and I have been grateful for that every day since.
7. Go back after your first meeting! If you only meet with your adviser during the first week of the school year, you will not make the most of what could be an influential relationship. Try to drop by at least once every six weeks to ask more questions, or even just to chat. Keeping your face fresh in your adviser's mind will be good for both you, and your adviser.
8. Keep in touch over email. Even if you don't have time to make an appointment to see your adviser, they are still available over email to answer any questions you have that may arise during the school year. Sending an email will not take you more than five minutes, and I am sure you will be glad you did!
9. Offer a handwritten thank you at the end of the year. Academic advisers are too often underappreciated. Build a solid relationship with yours, and offer a handwritten thank you note at the end of the year. Some advisers have advising as a career, and others do it on a volunteer basis. Regardless, your adviser works hard to ensure that you have a positive college experience. A thank you will mean more to them than you can imagine.
10. Know your worth. One of the biggest barriers to asking for advice is feeling as if you are wasting the other person's time by doing so. I promise you are not. They are there to guide you through the college process, and going to them with questions is not a waste of their time. They have chosen to serve as advisers because they love to help students. Know that your questions are valid, and you are worth it.
15 Questions to Ask your Adviser
1. What classes do you recommend for general education requirements?
2. What classes do you recommend for my major?
3. Where can I find information on campus events?
4. Are there any extracurricular fairs on campus? How else can I learn about organizations to join?
5. Where can I find tutoring resources or information on building better study skills?
6. Are there any events you highly recommend attending?
7. What are the most fun things to do around campus?
8. Does my schedule look okay this semester?
9. Where can I go to find information on applying to and attending graduate school?
10. Are there any professors whose classes I should try to get into?
11. What do you recommend on campus for someone interested in (insert your extracurricular or academic interest)?
12. Should I get a job on campus? Which positions have good reviews?
13. Where can I find research opportunities for undergraduates?
14. How is the (insert your major) department here?
15. What is the most important piece of advice you have to help me make the best of my experience?
I grew up hearing regularly the expression: If you want to make God laugh, make plans. I think that's the tongue in cheek way of saying some things are out of our control and a higher power is really in charge. Well, my take on it is that yes, there is a higher power, but He/She/The Universe wants to collaborate with us on our future. And let's be real you don't get ANYWHERE without a plan, an outline, an idea of what you want to make happen.
Speaking as someone who has designed her life successfully, I can say unabashedly that I made plans, I set them forth for execution, and I am where I am now because of doing so. Did ALL of my plans come to fruition? Um, no. I was not married by 26, a mom by 30, have a sitcom by 35 nor a millionaire by 40. But, and that's a BIG but - I did within those other plans create and design the life I truly wanted.
I wanted to be in a loving marriage with a partner who was a good father. I wanted to travel the world and have work that I enjoyed that allowed me to travel WITH my family. It did not happen overnight. It took years of honing my craft, dating some frogs, and making multiple sacrifices to get here. But I always, in the back of my head, had an idea- a plan, if you will, for the design of my life.
I knew from an early age what I wanted was not going to be traditional, yet I still had to do some traditional things like a 9 to 5 job. I had a 9 to 5 job for over a decade on top of pursuing my passion- so I technically had a 9 to 3am job. Along with missing sleep I did go without sometimes because I knew I would get more when my bigger picture was realized.
I also nurtured my plan by associating with people who were living their dreams. I absorbed information and knowledge from individuals and writers who spoke to me and encouraged the ideas for my plan. I cannot recommend enough reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelo and the late great Wayne Dyer's book "The Power of Intention".
What I know, is there will always be obstacles and reasons to stray from your plans/dreams. And sometimes you do have to hit the pause button. But you also have to have the wherewithal to hit "Play" again. Another thing I learned and not just from a Garth Brooks song is that sometimes you need to be grateful for unanswered prayers. God knows if I'd married who I thought I wanted to marry at 26 I wouldn't still be married and I would have never had the beautiful children I have today- nor the level of patience to deal with these beautiful children if I'd had them that young.
One of my favorite, and there are many, Wayne Dyer sayings is that, “Dreams are seeds God plants in us that we then can grow into reality." We don't just need faith that that is the case, we also need to do our part to follow the signs, seek the collaboration, accept the help and put in the work to bring our dreams/plans to reality.
It is possible. I am living proof. So my advice is: Make your plans. Follow your dreams. Design the life you always imagined for yourself. The greatest obstacle you will ever have is you- so get out of your way!
How many times have you heard that your years in college will be the greatest years you will ever have? Even if you have the wisdom to see the falsehood of that statement, it's impossible to deny that there is a lot of pressure to make college exceptional. Your elementary and secondary school years are spent dreaming about it, working to get into that one school, and once you get in, everything complicated in your life will fall perfectly into place, right?
Wrong. Let me preface this by stating that college is fun. It's a time to meet new people, explore who you are, and build connections that will last a life time. And yes, you will probably look back on college and notice that a handful of your college memories really are some of the greatest you've ever made. College, though, is not all fun and games. You have to figure out who you want to be, and most of the time, there's pressure to figure that out right now. What do you want to study? What do you want to do? Will you go into the workforce, or should you try to go straight into graduate school? What do you value? Who are you really?
College is an amalgamation of extreme opposites. You are getting your first taste of adult freedom, while simultaneously feeling restrained by the pressures of school. You feel sure of yourself on campus, while also feeling uncertain of where you fit in the "real world." College is a time in your life rife with indecision, and how you deal with it shapes your experience, while teaching you how to deal with obstacles you will face later in life.
I'm sitting in the middle of the indecision right now as I enter my second year of college, but I've already handled my fair share. I walked on to Harvard's campus in August 2017 an ardent Republican and a yoga aficionado, just knowing that I was going to concentrate in Government with a secondary in English, join the competitive Mock Trial team and the college Republicans, and graduate in three years before going to Harvard Law School.
One year has passed. I am returning to Harvard a fierce political independent and weight lifter, concentrating in Philosophy, and definitely taking all four years to graduate. I never tried out for the Mock Trial team, and I didn't run for student government. I left the college Republicans to form a group on campus for political moderates, and who knows whether I'll be in law school three years from now.
The point is that this year threw every obstacle in my way. Going off to school forced me to question who I am, what I want, and how I am going to accomplish my goals. When I went to college, I made things difficult for myself because I did not want to accept that I did not have my life completely figured out. I could not acknowledge that my thirty year plan might not have been perfect, or even good for me. As a result, I dug my metaphorical heels into the ground, and I resisted change. I forced myself to go to Government events that I did not want to attend. I tried to make myself fit into spaces on campus that I knew in my heart were not where I belonged.
Why? Because I thought it would be easier. I thought that keeping myself in a state of contentedness rather than reaching for real happiness was good for me. I could not bear the thought of taking a risk to find fulfillment, and failing to do so. I was comfortable; why fix what isn't broken?
Clearly, I had a change of heart. It came when I was sitting on the floor of Widener Library at 10:30 pm, discussing Descartes's Meditations on First Philosophy with a group of my classmates and my professor. It was the moment I fell in love with philosophy, and I decided to take the words of the Meditations to heart.
In Descartes's Second Meditation, the meditator is questioning whether she exists. Eventually, she comes to the conclusion of "cogito ergo sum," which translates to "I think, therefore, I am." The meditator uses this to prove her own existence; when I heard it, I decided to use it to affirm mine.
Cogito ergo sum. Those three Latin words sent me into an existential spiral. If thinking is the essence of existence, then didn't a constant denial of my innermost thoughts constitute a constant denial of my own existence? Why was I so intent on following a path I had fabricated for myself years ago, when my mind was begging me to move in another direction?
That night changed my life. In that moment, I decided to stop denying my reason, instead combining it with my passions to create a path that made me truly happy. When I was faced with cognitive dissonance, I asked myself why I was experiencing it, and I used my reason to carve a new path that avoided it. I questioned my preconceptions, challenged my beliefs, and constructed a new system of values. These values have led me to some incredible opportunities, experiences that have brought me true joy.
What does this have to do with you and dealing with indecision in college? Everything. College is so often described as a place designed to challenge you, but the challenge goes so far beyond the classroom. You need to challenge yourself. Examine your beliefs, dissect them, and decide which ones are worth keeping. Rebuild your character and your system of values to create a person who is confident, life-affirming, and happy.
When you are faced with indecision, ask yourself why you are feeling it. Trace it back to your values, and reason your way through it. I know, I know: easier said than done. You are right. Dealing with indecision in college is not by any means easy, especially when it feels as if the stakes are higher than ever. Indecision, though, helps us towards inner discovery. It forces us to adapt, to progress in order to address the obstacles ahead.
Face indecision head on, and do not fear failure. Failure allows us to grow. It shows us that somewhere along the line, there was an error in the mechanics of our decision making, and it teaches us to review our mistakes to become stronger. I am by no means the expert on dealing with self doubt, but I can tell you from personal experience that in our moments of indecision, there are no wrong answers. Every time you are faced with a challenging decision, you are faced with an opportunity for growth. Follow your reason combined with your passion, and do not be afraid to embrace change. After all, these are the best years of your life.
Packing for school can be overwhelming. Between reviewing the hundred item checklist you find on the internet, trying to figure out what will fit in your car, and making sure you don't overload your boxes, it can be easy for certain (very) important items to get lost in the shuffle. Here's a list of fifteen items you'll be sure to want at school:
We’ve all been there. We’ve had an experience or a situation that has taken us from our “happy place” into one of despair and misery. Sometimes it can last a day, other times weeks, months and in extreme cases years. None of us are immune to things happening that we can’t control, but how we handle it is up to us.
I have certainly had occurrences where the questions, “Really God?!” and “Why me?!” has crossed the threshold of my mouth and what I have learned is that while those may be the times I feel least like having and expressing my gratitude, those are the times that I most need to go deep and find it. So, I’ve come up with a few tips to get to that place of having gratitude even when you don’t feel so grateful.
Firstly, step outside of yourself. That means stop making everything about you for a bit and focus on someone else. Give some of your time and energy to another person who could use your help or love. One way to do this is by volunteering. It is amazing how not only helping other people puts things in perspective with regard to your own life and circumstances, but it also gives you the reciprocal gift of feeling love and connection to another human being- something definitely to feel grateful for.
Next, just watch the news, even better news that covers things that are happening in other parts of the world. While this may strike a chord, because sadly so much of what is covered by the news is negative, seeing how other people’s lives are being affected in your own backyard and on the other side of the world can certainly help you qualify and classify what you’re dealing with which can in turn give a sense of gratitude.
Lastly, don’t be so hard on yourself. You are a human being. We all have ups and down; some downs are significant and life altering while other downs simply throw us off track for a bit. This isn’t about feeling bad for the sake of feeling bad – what good does that do? But when you are in the valley of disappointment and depression, start making your list. Your list of what you can be grateful for. You may feel at first like you’re pulling it out of where the sun don’t shine, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you are taking a positive and progressive step toward being in a place of gratitude.
Here’s what I know about living in gratitude. The more we can express our gratitude, the more God/The Universe hears us and gives us more to be grateful for. It’s part of that wild Law of Attraction thing. So, the real key is to just get started and make it a habit; every day come up with 5 things for which you are grateful and just watch how that list magically expands.
If you’re not sure where to begin here’s a list that you can borrow from until you can create your own.
Things To Be Grateful For
Photo by Carolyn V on Unsplash
In May of 2017, student at Evergreen State College demanded the firing of a professor who decided not to participate in a white "Day of Absence" in which white students and faculty were requested to remain off campus, even though he offered an open statement as to why he would not attend, citing that it would not be productive disagreement. When conservative commentator Ben Shapiro came to speak at UC Berkeley, nine people were arrested in protests related to his event. These two examples represent a larger trend of increasing tensions over campus expression. The First Amendment protects freedom of speech, but how far does that protection extend within the ivy covered walls of your college campus?
From a legal standpoint, the conversation around the First Amendment on college campuses has to be divided between public and private universities. At public universities, it is well established that students have all speech rights protected under Amendment I and the law that has followed from it. This is because public universities, in the eyes of the law, are considered to be government entities, meaning that it is unconstitutional to restrict free speech on public campuses.
Free expression at private universities, however, is another matter. Private schools are not required to guarantee First Amendment protections to their students. While this may appear problematic for free expression (and with good reason), most private universities consider themselves to be ardent proponents of free speech, going out of their way to ensure student speech rights through their student handbooks. This, however, is not guaranteed, and it is within a private university's legal limits to restrict student speech, so long as they make their policies public.
A legal discussion of campus speech rights only begins to cover the issue of expression on college campuses. Free expression has been framed as a force opposed to inclusion, leading to tensions. A Gallup poll found that 53 percent of students hold diversity to be more important than free speech. Campus culture has become dominated by the idea of microaggressions and safe spaces (for more on this topic, we highly recommend "The Coddling of the American Mind"). Colleges have become more concerned with maintaining sensitivity than with protecting free expression, with students being the driving force behind this shift.
At the FRFF, we believe that this sets students up for failure. Portraying inclusion and free expression as opposites only serves to damage students by preventing them from being exposed to opinions with which they disagree. Moreover, without free expression, it becomes impossible to confront perspectives that we find unfair or offensive, leaving this viewpoints to fester and cause animosity through a lack of understanding. Rather than posing the question of whether diversity is more important than free speech, we think that it is impossible to promote and protect diversity without it.
It’s only the second month of 2018 and most of us are still probably getting into our groove after the start of a new year. I’m sure I am not alone in trying to stick with New Year’s resolutions, by regularly giving thought to what I can do to make myself and my life better. What can I change to make this happen?
For me, the idea of change hasn’t necessarily been a daunting thing as much as it’s been an external thing. For years I saw change as something that happened around me or to me; that I had to adjust or react to.
But then I came across the Norman Vincent Peele quote, “Change your thoughts and change your world.” My first thought was, how could such a simple saying be so deep and complex? Well, I was determined to make it complex, ‘cause that’s how I roll, by nature or nurture. I’ve grown to believe if something is simple it’s too easy; or it’s cheating (thanks Baby Boomer Parents!)
But the more I let that idea marinate the more I realized it is that simple. So why hadn’t I thought of it myself?! I chalk it up to it being a case of having to hear the right thing at the right time.
That got me thinking. Sure, when things aren’t going the way we want we can change external things- i.e. the variables like our clothes, our car, our hair, our jobs, even our partners- but the one thing that is constant is us! And if we’re the ones that need true change; altering or eliminating that external stuff is a just temporary fix. We must first change ourselves by, as Mr. Peele so profoundly put it, “changing our thoughts.” Otherwise we will be in an emotional tar pit for as long as we keep our old way of thinking.
There is no denying it; our thoughts are powerful. They are powerful because what starts as a thought /idea, then becomes words- written or spoken. Those words also take on power because they become actions and energy. Actions are what we must take to create the momentum for change to occur. So, it all starts with changing our thoughts—but how often do we think of it that way?!
Full disclosure- I have struggled with my weight since adolescence. I had the unfortunate hindrance of steroids and medication for asthma that played its role, but later, it was my addiction to food and using food as comfort and medication to feed my emotions that was to blame. I failed miserably at every “diet/life style” change I tried except for ONE time.
I desperately needed a change. I was coming out of a toxic work situation and personal relationship during which I’d added an additional 20+ pounds to my already full figure. But I decided to approach it from a completely different angle.
Instead of attacking the issue from the standpoint of “I’m doing this to lose weight and see how many pounds and inches I can lose.” I chose to approach it from the perspective of “How healthy can I get? How will changing the way I’m treating my body benefit me?” I was certainly open to all the possibilities and if it included not dropping a lot of weight that would be a bonus. It was my own personal psychological experiment, which I took literally one day at a time.
Not that I’m recommending this, but you should know the seriousness of my commitment. I vowed to myself and my viewers (at the time I had a daily web show) that I would go 90 Days with NO Sugar, NO Wheat, NO Dairy, NO Gluten, NO Alcohol.
On stage while doing stand-up comedy, I share that it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Detoxing from the sugar was the worst! It was so bad at times I hallucinated. I was at the mall one day and these two little white kids with frizzy hair walked by; and I started following them because I thought they were cotton candy!
Joking aside, I did have highs and lows, but the longer I stayed in my commitment to my health vs. my singular goal of weight-loss the stronger I became and the more incredible differences I began to notice in myself. I was sleeping better. My thoughts were clearer. My skin was looked amazing! I was glowing so that a few people asked if I was pregnant. My asthma and allergies became almost non-existent and I felt really good about myself. Oh, and in those 90 days I lost about 22 inches and close to 30 lbs.
While there were several factors in my success the main one I credit is my completely different approach. Because I changed my thoughts I changed my world.
We obviously aren’t all dealing with the same struggles or issues so while there is certainly no cookie–cutter answer, I can’t help but believe that starting by changing how you think about something, changing how you approach something and seeing how you can put a twist on it will help you bring about the change you want to see and be. So when you think about it, what do you have to lose?
Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash
Putting together an event on your college campus can be a daunting task for the uninitiated. Someone who has never booked or promoted an event may think that you just announce an event, put up some posters, and people will come to the event if they see the flyers and think it sounds interesting, but it almost always requires much more effort then that. Putting up a banner for the event in your student union may catch a few eyes, but for many first time promoters, that is where the event promotion begins and ends, so the event will almost certainly get lost in a sea of posters and banners. Based on my eight years of event booking and promotion, these are four tips to get your event more exposure and help you get butts in seats. These are not the only things you can do, but it's a great start!
2. Targeted Online Promotion
On the note of knowing your audience, it isn’t just enough to have physical promotion. Targeted online promotion is just as important. Once you know what people you are trying to reach, cruise around instagram and twitter for hashtags on your campus that are relevant to your event and see how you can incorporate them into your promotional posts. Paying for online advertising on social media can be helpful, but it is not the be-all end-all of online promotion. Boosting posts on Facebook can help, but don’t over-do it by doing it with too many different posts. Also look for Facebook groups for students on campus for events and networking that you can post about your event on.
3. Interactive promotion
When talking about online promotion, you also want to have an element of interaction. Instagram raffles/contests are often a great way to get the word out about your event to a much wider swath of people. If your event has an admission fee, have an IG raffle where users post the flyer for the event and tag a friend in order to be submitted for free entry for two. If the event is free, think of another sort of raffle or contest that can get people promoting your event on their own social media profiles.
4. Campus Coordination
Involving your school in the promotion process can also be a vital tool. Many colleges have an official event list on their website, which can be an invaluable tool for helping bring in freshman who are looking for ways to meet new people. For events that tie into the curriculum of any classes, it also a great idea to talk to the professors of those classes to see if you can work together to have the teachers assign extra credit for attending your event. Getting the extra boost of students needing a small grade bump is a fantastic way to get more eyes and ears for your organization. Making a signup sheet that you put on the welcome table at the end of the event is a great way to make sure people stick around.
Following these steps will help build your event turnout in a big way. Just like anything else, the success of your event is directly correlated to how much work you put into its preparation.
The Time I Let Fear Win
I am the woman friends and family say, “Gosh, you are fearless! I wish I could be more like you and just go for it.” I take that as a huge compliment and graciously accept it. I also try to express that I’m not some magical being and that they, too, can live like I do. I never condemn because I have been, and even some days still, walk in those shoes of hesitation and yes, FEAR. Honestly, I think the only thing that really separates me from my friends and colleagues, who are sometimes too paralyzed to act, is my own personal version of FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. Mine is more like WWIF – Wondering What IF?
WWIF is what, for the past several decades, has pushed me out of my comfort zone. To me wondering constantly what could have or would have been had I gone for it is truly hell on Earth. Wondering what if- is NOT how I can happily live my life. It’s what made me move to NYC right out of college to work for Barbara Walter’s at The View, where I had no place to live and knew I was barely going to be making enough money to make ends meet. WWIF is what made me take a stand-up comedy class that changed the course of my life; set me on a path to experiences and opportunities and friendships I never would have had. It’s been the Wondering What IF that’s driven me to take job assignments like working with Don Imus in a time when I was actually putting my physical security at risk, because I knew that if I didn’t take that job someone else would have and they likely would not have been as responsible in the position; and I wanted and needed to be a positive example of a Black Woman in the media.
Truth is, I cannot live my life with a list of “what ifs” so, I go for it. Because my theory is this- it’s only a mistake if you don’t get anything out of it. But here’s the best part—you almost always get something out of it. You get knowing you tried your hardest and either it was for you or it wasn’t. You get knowing that maybe it wasn’t really where your passion lay after all and you have no interest in trying it again. Sometimes you get success and the knowledge that this is exactly where you are supposed to be and what you are supposed to be doing. This is why when something comes my way that I want to do, I say, “YES”—even if it scares the hell out of me.
But there was that one time I didn’t say yes. It was the one time I let fear rule out. I was still in the infancy of my comedy career- meaning I hadn’t yet reached the 7 year mark (standard accepted time of “finding one’s voice” in comedy) and my manager informed me that I was being offered a spot by Comedy Central to be on the televised dais that would roast Larry the Cable Guy (who is actually a dear friend.) I was terrified! What would I say? How would I come up with all those new jokes? I’m a “nobody” in the business, will people be wondering what the hell I was doing up there? And they would laugh at me—not with me?!
I was so torn about it, I consulted older comics in the business. Hindsight being 20/20, they were probably a tad jealous that at such a young place in my career, I was being offered this opportunity. But the advice all ran along the same tone, with the underlying message being that I didn’t want to “get out there too soon” or “appear too green”- because it would hurt my chances of really excelling in the field of comedy. And worst case scenario, I could be signing my death notice with the folks at Comedy Central who would never look at me the same way again.
I let my FEAR of failure win. I hated telling my manager, “No,” that I was passing on this incredible opportunity. I was so disappointed in myself, but I thought in my heart of hearts I was making a sound strategic career move. Now, here’s the kicker, what I didn’t know and evidently my manager at the time didn’t either, was that I wasn’t going to be going it alone. That’s because Comedy Central has an entire staff of writers that help the comics write the jokes for the roast. There are almost no words for how upset I was when this revelation came to light. (Actually there are words- but none of them are anything my southern great-grandmother would approve of.)
Since that moment more than 15 years ago, whenever I get a chance to do something that has the potential to take me to the next level I say, “YES!” I say, “YES!” even when I have no idea how on earth I’m going to bring it to fruition. But the one thing I know for sure, and I don’t even know why the Universe/God works this way, is that when you say “YES” the Universe/God conspires to help you achieve your goal. Do you have to put in some work and effort? Of course! But by saying “YES” you’ve taken the first step in getting there and it is amazing how help and assistance will come to you- quite often in ways you least expect. You just have to be open for it.
In my quest to excel my comedy and speaking careers, I’ve attended many conferences and read as much material on success as I could get my hands on and one of the best acronyms for FEAR that I’ve come across is: False Evidence Appearing Real. I was at a conference once when my mentor, Jack Canfield, of Chicken Soup For the Soul fame, and I’m paraphrasing here, said that, “99 percent of the things we are a afraid of – the things and scenarios our amazingly imaginative brains come up with—NEVER come to fruition.” So that essentially means we cause more stress in our heads than what actually happens in real life.
That has stuck with me and I hope it sticks with you. While I get that it’s easy to let FEAR rule, remember that YOU, ME—WE DESERVE better and by saying “YES!” It is entirely possible to push past that fear. Even if it doesn’t turn out the way you expected, that doesn’t mean you failed. If you learned a lesson then you got something out of it. And whatever you got is a GIFT- not a failure.