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.